Peter Shelton

Crane Prairie

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on June 29, 2020

Crane Prairie is an odd name for a lake, a shallow impoundment actually, on the upper Deschutes River. Apparently it was a kind of high-mountain marshland before the river was dammed, in 1922. And there were cranes there. Maybe there still are, at certain times of year. I haven’t seen any from my paddleboard. But I have seen birds. Lots and lots of birds. Sesame Street sized birds. Really big birds.

Some people come to watch the birds. Most come to fish. Crane Prairie rainbows (“cranebows”) get huge. The lake must be rich in rainbow food. The biggest one taken so far weighed 19 pounds. Crane Prairie Resort and Marina (“Established 1952”), where I put in, sports two signs on either side of its rustic front door: “Crane Prairie, Where the Fish Are” and “Shallow Water, Big Fish.”

The only other birdwatchers I see are in kayaks, well off shore, a man and a woman with binoculars glued to their faces. I may have pissed them off. My line, slow and splashless, takes me closer to the reed islands where the geese and pelicans are sheltering. I am between the kayakers and what they want to watch. And I am standing up, a tall drifting alien. Wearing a floppy hat and with a seven-foot-long paddle in his hands.

The kayakers are so far out, being so careful not to disturb the birds, I can’t see their faces to see if I am indeed pissing them off. Something in their body language tells me I am. But, in any case, the birds remain unconcerned: goldeneye ducks, Canada goose married couples, great blue herons like Giacometti bronzes, and blinding white gatherings of American white pelicans. Some of the pelicans are sleeping, balanced on downed snags, their tremendous bills tucked in under their back feathers. In the air, they are spectacular gliders. The first time I saw one, in flight, from a distance, I thought it was a white sports car racing along the lakeside highway. Fully unfurled, their wingspans measure nine feet.

Last time I was here I asked the woman behind the resort desk why the trees had been left standing when the reservoir filled. She didn’t know. Just that they were. And here they are. What’s left of them. Some parts of the lake look like miles-long, long-abandoned piers, with just the ghost-grey pilings standing above water level. Where the drowned pines, lodgepoles mostly, broke off, or were upended and floated away, there are now crazy bays filled with piled-up timber, like giant pick-up sticks. In shallower sections, bleached pine logs have become freshwater atolls, with electric-blue damselflies and beaver lodges and wildflowers taking root, along with the loafing pelicans.

The scene is so rich with life, it fills me up, shoves me along, like a sail. I just have to keep an eye out for submerged stumps. Snag one of those babies with my board’s fin, and I’d be careening off the nose like Wile E. Coyote.

Somewhere between the Deschutes River inlet and the Cultus River inlet, in shallow water between stands of bulrushes, a bunch of pelicans are feeding together in a group so precisely choreographed I can only think: Busby Berkeley! Like the Hollywood musical director’s geometric showgirl designs, these 20 pelicans swim in perfect white-feathered sync, gliding one way together then diving, all at once, beaks first, rumps up, bobbing for what must be schools of small fish below. Then, all together again, they lift their enormous bills to the sky and jiggle their orange gullets until the food slithers down. Who is leading? Who is making the decisions? Go left. Go right. Dive now! I have no idea. There must be some kind of tightly packed group genius at work.

Humans, on the other hand, rely on individual cunning. Two fly fisherman, buddies in float tubes, casting the surface, hoping to match a damselfly hatch. A trout takes one man’s fly with a splash. The other man doesn’t see the hit but says to his buddy, “That sounded like a good size one.” The man with the fish on grunts, his rod bent like a question mark.

I slow my paddling to watch. The man with the fish on pivots his float tube to follow the trout’s underwater struggle. His buddy wants in on the action and whips his line back and forth overhead. But there’s a tangle. The line doesn’t shoot out. He curses and drops the reel end of his rig into the water while reaching for the tippet. His friend is pivoting, reaching – too soon – with his net, as the silvery fish darts away. Tangled Man is growing more frustrated. Cursing under his breath. Working at the knot. Making it worse. I drift away, my looking having become too intimate.

Up in the protected mouth of the Cultus River. No fishermen here. Just me. Water barely moving. Surface like a clean glass window. I can see every fish from bank to bank. And there are scores of them, rainbows and brook trout. The window works both ways. They can see me, too, the shadow of my board, the shadow of this monstrous stick insect with a carbon-fiber paddle. More likely, I’m a cruising osprey.

These are not the huge ones, the football-shaped “cranebows.” But they are sizable, sleek 16-inch torpedoes, hyper alert, hanging in the eddies, holding in the ruins of yet another toppled pine. I whisper to them that I gave up hooking fish a long time ago. But they speed away anyway. Not too far, to their next holding water, where I’ll sneak up on them again.

Antifa Boy, Antifa Man

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on June 16, 2020

I was a boy of 20 when I transferred from the cloistered halls of Pomona College up to the University of California, Berkeley. This was 1969. Nobody had yet invented the term “antifa” – for anti-fascist. But that’s what we were: anti-war, anti-discrimination, anti-fascists.

I was not there for the People’s Park demonstrations of the previous spring, when, during a march down Telegraph Avenue, police shot and killed a student, James Rector, who was watching from the roof of the Telegraph Repertory Cinema.

But I was there the next April, when colleges and universities across the country – from Harvard to Stanford to Kent State – exploded in protest following news of President Nixon’s secret invasion of Cambodia. Governor Ronald Reagan ordered the National Guard into Berkeley. He made no secret of the distain (or maybe it was fear?) he felt for the freedom to assemble and speak. He had earlier described Berkeley as “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.” He publically denounced UC administrators for allowing students to hold demonstrations on campus.

Helicopters buzzed Sproul Plaza spraying tear gas. For a day or two before the University shut down, I sprinted from class to class with eyes fogged and streaming, throat raw to the point of gagging. Berkeley was like an occupied state. Reagan’s fascist instincts surfaced memorably in the line: “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”

But none of this, not even the massive anti-war march across the bay in San Francisco – an ecstatic, miles-long human sea – radicalized the boy like an incident later that spring, during the shutdown. With no school to attend, people in my apartment building heard about an eviction set to take place in another Berkeley neighborhood. Evictions were carried out by the Alameda County Sheriffs, dubbed the Blue Meanies for their blue jumpsuit “riot gear” uniforms. (And in mocking reference to the buffoonish, music-hating beings in “Yellow Submarine,” the Beatles cartoon film of 1968.) It was a sheriff’s deputy who fired the buckshot into James Rector.

This eviction had a set date and time. The idea was to go there and try to prevent the woman from being thrown out of her home. A friend and I walked together and found, when we got to the address, that the eviction wasn’t happening. The sheriffs had anticipated a protest and backed down, or decided to call it off.

About a hundred of us milled about in the residential street. It was a sunny day. There were a few Berkeley city cops there encouraging people to leave. Which we did, slowly. Until we reached the intersection at the end of the block. Then, in a coordinated move, squad cars swept in from each of the four directions and blocked any escape. Car doors slammed and cops with batons moved in, yelling at us to leave, all the while tightening a circle around us.

People tried to run, but there was nowhere to go. The cops were yelling and swinging at random heads and shoulders. I watched them grab one would-be escapee and throw him over a wall onto somebody’s concrete driveway, where he lay bleeding from the head. I took my friend’s hand and pulled her, running directly at what might have been a gap in the police line. It was that or wait to be clubbed.

As the nearest cop raised his baton I pushed my friend to the ground and leapt at the same time as high as I could, as if hurdling a barrier. I was a pretty good leaper in those days and hoped he might swing under me. But no, at shoulder height his baton caught me square on both shins and I went to pavement like a shot bird.

I couldn’t move. My legs buzzed, paralyzed. My friend had crawled through untouched, and she and a couple of strangers dragged me to the curb.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that. The feeling in my legs came back slowly. We saw people carry off the kid with the bleeding head. And eventually we walked home ourselves.

It is the senselessness of it that is so lasting. The mindless, inchoate brutality. The realization that power is its own justification. Protesters today, facing state-sanctioned violence against citizens legitimately seeking redress, will be radicalized, too. They will not forget the blood, the gas, the stupidity. They will become antifa. Because when confronted so viscerally with fascism’s blunt stick, that is the only rational response.