Place as Person – Irene Radford

Our next Place as Person contributor is Irene Radford. I hadn’t had the pleasure of discovering Radford’s work before I read her story, ‘The Fall’, in ‘River’. Needless to say, I’m now keen on making up for that lack! (You can see a picture of Latouell Falls below to the left, where she sets her story. Multnomah Falls, to the right, is the actual place associated with the legend that inspired ‘The Fall’.)


Place as a person: waterfalls.


Waterfalls have fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  When out for the proverbial Sunday drive, or driving cross-country to a new home, I always asked for a detour that would take us past a waterfall, even if it was only a trickle down a hillside.

The Tribal Museum in Warm Springs, Oregon has an introductory video of the importance of water to life; how precious it is and how we need to preserve it.  The images are of waterfalls and creeks nourishing the land, bringing the desert to life.

Then returning to Portland, Oregon, the place of my birth, when I was sixteen seemed like a miracle.  Portland is defined by the Willamette River and its tributaries that flow into the mighty Columbia of legend and lore.  The Columbia River Gorge was only an hour away; the largest concentration of waterfalls on Earth along the 15 miles between Crown Point and Ainsworth Park.  There are 84 named falls in the 75 miles of the Gorge itself.  Drive along Historic Hiway 30 on a wet winter day and you’ll see more.  Tiny seeps in the summer turn into roaring creeks tumbling down the hillsides.  Mist Falls is only visible in winter or after a heavy summer rain and blows wild sprays across a craggy basalt cliff face.

I fell in love the first time I ventured there with my parents.  Hiked, picnicked, explored, photographed, and meditated frequently after I married.  We have always treated the gorge as our back yard, even though we live an hour away.

The Columbia River Gorge is a place of transition; between high plateau desert and valley wet lands, between east and west, here and there.  It is a major transportation route with commercial tugs and barges, small personal craft, and pleasure cruises.  Dams with their fish ladders, generate electricity, control flooding, and help irrigate tens of thousands of acres of agriculture.  It is a funnel for the every moving air trying to balance itself.  The almost always blows and the central gorge has become a summer haven for wind surfing, kite sailing, and all of the spin off sports.  In winter the wind creates fabulous ice sculptures along the banks, protruding docks, rocks, and other obstacles.

But the waterfalls set it apart and make it special.  As waterfalls shape and change the landscape and feed the river, the river shapes our civilization, provides us with food, transportation, and gathering places.  I am as much a part of the waterfalls as I am the mountain or the valley.  They are my home, my temple, my essence.

A native Oregonian living in Oregon, Irene is a member of an endangered species. As a service brat, she lived in a number of cities throughout the country until returning to Oregon in time to graduate from Tigard High School. She earned a B.A. in history from Lewis and Clark College, where she met her husband, Tim. Historical research has remained a lifelong passion and finally became a part of her job with the historical fantasy series Merlin’s Descendants.

Her new book, Chicory Up, the Pixie Chronicles will be available from DAW books on May 1st.

Find out more about Irene on


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8 Responses to Place as Person – Irene Radford

  1. Tim Jones says:

    That’s a great post – my favourite out of all the posts so far (including my own!)

    The Columbia River Gorge sounds wonderful. The nearest I have come to this was visiting Milford Sound in Fiordland, NZ with my father, when he went there periodically as part of his job. After a deluge (and, in Fiordland, it is nearly always after a deluge), multiple waterfalls thunder from the steep walls of the sound – and the mighty Sutherland Falls are only a few kilometres away.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    P.S.: I tried to put in a link to a photo of the Sutherland Falls near Milford Sound, but it didn’t show up properly – it’s at

    • Sutherland Falls. That’s a good one. If I ever get south of the equator I’ll make a point of paying homage. Multnomah is also a double fall. My picture from my iPod only shows the top half. There’s a second fall from the plunge pool down another cliff, about 1/2 the length of the main fall.

  3. Helen Lowe says:

    This is certainly a very evocative tribute to a special place, one that makes me long to go there myself, one day …

  4. Kim Falconer says:

    Lovely post, Irene. I’m looking forward to reading The Fall!

    Tim, great link. I’m putting that on my TBS (to be seen) list for next trip to NZ!

    Thank you!

  5. Gillian says:

    I love waterfalls, too. Each one has a distinct personality. Some are peaceful, some are furious, some eat away at the rock they travel over and some live in harmony with it.

  6. Pingback: ‘Place As Person’ A Guest Author Series Celebrating the Newly Released “River” Anthology » Helen Lowe

  7. Tim Jones says:

    Thanks, Irene and Kim – I’m glad you liked the photo!

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