|Columbia River. Flickr. Bonnie Moreland. Public domain.|
Their discussion features a Manifest Destiny theme of American sovereignty, no matter that Native Americans were the rightful inhabitants of the land so described and a people who should have been consulted rather than nearly annihilated.
Mr. Ashley also finds a symmetry with the "fight" of the river on its march to the ocean, much like a worker on his journey through life.
C.C. Goodwin weaves this narrative with a mastery and wisdom that can only come with having had many life experiences that cause such reflection and contemplation.
"But while on grand themes, have you ever seen the Columbia River?" Mr. Ashley asked. "To me it is the glory of the earth. It is a great river fourteen hundred miles above its mouth, and from thence on it rolls to the sea with increasing grandeur all the way. Where it hews its way through the Cascades a new and gorgeous picture is every moment painted, and when the mountain walls are pierced, with perfect purity and with mighty volume it sweeps on toward the ocean.
|Mount Hood. Flickr. Public domain. Federal government.|
"It is, through its last one hundred and fifty miles, watched over by great forests and magnificent mountains. There are Hood and St. Helens and the rest, and where, upon the furious bar, the river joins the sea, there is an everlasting war of waters as beautiful as it is terrible.
"It makes a man a better American to go up the Columbia to the Cascades and look about him. He is not only impressed with the majesty of the scene, but thoughts of empire, of dominion and of the glory of the land over which his country's flag bears sovereignty, take possession of him. He looks down upon the rolling river and up at Mount Hood, and to both he whispers, 'We are in accord; I have an interest in you,' and the great pines nod approvingly, and the waterfalls babble more loud.
"The Mississippi has greater volume than the Oregon, the Hudson makes rival pictures which perhaps are as beautiful as any painted in the Cascades; but there is a power, a beauty, a purity and a wildness about the river of the West which is all its own and which is unapproachable in its charms.
"More than that. To me the river is the emblem of a perfect life. Through all the morning of its career it fights its way, blazing an azure trail through the desert. There is no green upon its banks, hardly does a bird sing as it struggles on. But it bears right on, and so austere is its face that the desert is impotent to soil it. Then it meets a rocky wall and breaks through it, roaring on its way. Then it takes the Willamette to its own ample breast, and it bears it on until it meets the inevitable, and then undaunted goes down to its grave.
"It fights its way, it bears its burdens, it remains pure and brave to the last. That is all the best man that ever lived could do." As Ashley concluded Strong said: "Why, Ashley! that is good."