Tales from the Trail: Johnson Creek

It’s been a little rainy in Portland since yesterday. And by “a little” I mean really, really rainy. So rainy, in fact, that I felt a bit like I was in an alternate universe this morning: it was so dark, practically midnight dark, and so quiet (but for the rain and wind), and I didn’t pass anyone until right before I got off the Springwater Trail maybe 55 minutes into my ride. It was eerie, in the best of ways.

se 111 and springwater trail(and though it wasn’t yet this wet, it was pretty darn wet)

I mentioned a while ago that a lot of my commute roughly parallels Johnson Creek. Usually, Johnson is a presence I feel most when I cross it on any of the three (I think) bridges I go over — though there are also a few sections near Gresham where it flows merrily along right next to the path, and a few more sections where I can see it a little further off. Mostly, though, it’s the hint of presence, felt in the emptiness of vegetation in the distance where it meanders, or in the lack of development, or in the waterbirds in the air.

Today, though, was a different story.

This morning, it was swollen but not crazy. Enough to make me notice it but not enough to make me worry. (Though this might also have to do with the fact that, as I mentioned, it’s rather dark in the mornings so I can’t see much beyond my immediate surroundings). On the way home, though — and I left early (more on that later) — it was raging. Like, 8-times-as-big-as-it-usually-is, wreaking-havoc, debris-swirling, swallowing-houses raging.

Johnson Creek(no, those trees are not usually underwater –nor is that building — but look at how deep they are right now!)

I wish I had pictures of what it usually looks like so you could compare — you’ll just have to believe me that especially since we had such a dry summer it’s usually a bitty body of water that you mostly don’t see from the Springwater.

johnson creek overflowing(though this craziness might make you think otherwise)

There were a few places I had to take detours of varying degrees. This one was easy, since there’s a high road as well as a low road…

springwater corridor flooded


…but there were a few where the water was so deep or the flooded part so lengthy or the alternate option so tricky that it prompted much longer, convoluted detours — detours that put me on roads with cars and made me so happy that I wasn’t stuck in weather-induced traffic like the rest of everyone else in the world.

Some places taught me today how close Johnson Creek actually is even when I can’t see it. Here, for example, I’d never seen the creek and had never even thought about it being there — but apparently, I learned, it’s just usually lying low on the other side of those trees. Today, feeling spunky, it thought it might hop its borders and come join the trail.

Club Paesano overflowing


The huge bummer of it all is the people who have houses near Powell Butte, between the Springwater path and Johnson creek. Most of their houses — many of them not even actually creekfront — were being swallowed when I biked past this afternoon. I even saw some horses standing up to their knees in water, looking unfazed despite the fact that their humans were carrying boxes of things off their porch, into the water, through the new creek, and to their also-flooded-but-not-quite-as-much car.

johnson creek flood(uhoh)

johnson creek house flooded(I’m still not even sure where the creek usually is here, but it sure as heck isn’t right through the middle of this house and street)

So it was a pretty crazy ride home, and I feel like I got to meet a whole other side to this innocuous (I thought) creek I’ve recently been getting to know. In reading about it, though, I should have known: Wikipedia tells me that Johnson Creek has flooded 37 times in 65 years. Even without reading about it, I should have put together the fact of large-scale ecological restoration projects along it, the mitigation of erosion and stormwater runoff, with the concept that perhaps such work was necessary because sometimes it has to handle a lot of water, and it doesn’t yet handle it well. No matter, though: I’m not ashamed to say I’ll probably always be learning about this creek that has now become part of my life.

Oh, and the reason I came home early? Large-scale flooding in Gresham, including a giant sinkhole that swallowed half of a very significant and very large road, closed work for today and tomorrow. It’s like a snow day, only rain! :)




  1. Be safe, and seek high ground! We live in changing times.

  2. Stasia, just saw your blog. Had to read this post since I was there that day. Wish I had seen you, we could have floated down the trail together. Wild day with a bit pure fear and excitement. Hopefully see you soon.

    • Woah! Bryan! Long time no see! :) Just you wait — pretty soon I’m going to be back on my half-an-hour-earlier schedule and then our commutes might match up again. Crazy that you were out there that day too. Not many people were.

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