A highlight of Forest Grove, Oregon, is a visit to the water treatment plant, where sewage feeds the Fernhill Wetlands. Before dawn the wetlands bustle with waterfowl and songbird activity. The spectacle of sunrise ranks a distant second to the winged activity on the lake, in the marshes, and along the banks. I won’t pretend to know what all those birds are, but I recognized geese, herons, ducks, redwing blackbirds, robins, what I think are sandpipers, many tiny winged creatures flitting about, larger ones too showing off their in-flight acrobatics. I really have no interest in identifying them—naming always involves claiming, and I have no claim on these feathered beasts.
My interests lie more in the utter chaos of predawn life. The rapid maneuvers of flying insectivores intercept the slow movements of bugs rising into the cool morning air. Meanwhile ducks rise suddenly in pairs from the marsh reeds, taking flight into the breeze of a gray sky. A small gaggle of Canada geese disturbs the soundscape with their nervous honkings. A blue heron stands motionless studying shallow waters around her spindly legs.
I remain silent, but quiet has no place in these marshes. Songs and warnings and a cacophony of avian annoyance clamors to override the constant hum of traffic on the nearby highway.
This would be a natural place if it hadn’t been formed by the clumsy blades of earthmovers, multi-ton scrapers, bulldozers and dump trucks. Life here thrives on Forest Grove wastewater, the effluent remains of human piss and excrement, random spittings, the wash cycles and rinse-and-spin of washing machines, the soapy brown rinses of dishwashers, bathtubs draining off the accumulated sweat and grime of hardworking bodies, runoff from the carefully maintained lawns and gardens—acres and acres of human hydrated waste sent through miles and miles of pipelines for treatment here at Fernhill.
Treated waters in turn become the source of life for the thriving chaos of nature. In the aftermath of human waste, a natural place becomes possible. ♨