Brian Mittge Commentary: Spring Days Paddling on the Chehalis River


Today, if all goes according to plan, two Chronicle journalists will begin an epic trip down the Chehalis River.

Reporter Isabel Vander Stoep and photographer Jared Wenzelberger are beginning near Pe Ell and plan to float east through Doty and Dryad, follow the river north at Chehalis, then turn west at Centralia before passing through Oakville, Montesano and paddling all the way to Grays Harbor.

It’s an expansion of a similar project The Chronicle pulled off in 2009, when another pair of journalists paddled from Rainbow Falls to the harbor.

If all goes well, I hope to join this year’s voyage on Monday for a day float somewhere between Adna and the Chehalis River’s confluence with the Newaukum.

Why take such a trip?

There are plenty of current issues associated with the river, from periodic flood risks to water rights.

For me, though, what is most interesting is to see our community from a very different vantage point.

Literally, when you’re a few dozen feet below the top of the riverbank, the world looks very different. Roads and houses are in a world above. Crawdads and fish are in the world below. You’re in a borderland, a place where elements meet and gravity pulls you forward rather than down.

But traveling on the river also throws the whole geography of our everyday world into a different alignment.

We’re no longer orienting ourselves by roads and highways, cities and counties. Instead, the flow of water from hills to valleys reigns supreme.

The Chehalis River is the largest watershed entirely within the state of Washington. From the Willapa Hills to the foothills of the Cascades, it draws water from as far afield as Boistfort, Onalaska, Tenino and south Olympia.

The veins and arteries of these brooks, creeks and rivers connect us together in ways we might not always think about. Getting down into the river uncovers a whole different neighborhood.

You also are in touch with nature, literally. We’ll feel the recent rainfalls in a higher river level, faster currents and lush surrounding greenery.

As the voyagers near the ocean, they’ll feel the tides that reach far up the river. Based on the tired arms of our crew in 2009, when the tide is coming in, paddling downstream is a real workout.

What more will the crew learn? Follow along in the newspaper, via the web at, on Facebook (@thecentraliachronicle), Instagram (@chronicle_photos) and on Twitter (@chronline) to find out.

The Chehalis River only rarely grabs our attention, but if we look closely, it has many stories to tell. This week, we’ll start to hear them.


Fords Prairie Inspiration

One of the highlights of my week came in the gorgeous second-floor library of the new(ish) Fords Prairie Elementary School. Longtime teacher Nancy Herzog invited me in to talk to the school’s third-graders about the life of Centralia founder George Washington.

I arrived to find a full room of energetic but respectful children who were eager to raise their hands and ask all sorts of questions (or “this is more of a comment than a question”).

I told them about the remarkable and unique American story of the Black founder of their town, then sang a song I wrote about his life. The kids responded positively and as they filed out at the end of the program, one boy looked at me and earnestly said, “Your music made me very expired.”

I might be getting along toward my pull date, but I totally get his meaning. I have to say that telling the young people who will build our future about the great people of old — connecting yesterday with tomorrow — is truly inspiring work. Or should I say, expiring.


Dad Joke of the Week

Today’s dad joke comes from an anonymous umpire at my son’s Little League game this week at Theodore Hoss Field in Grand Mound.

A parent in the stands, during a discussion about whether the teams should play one more inning, said to the umps, “We want to get you home for dinner.”

The outfield ump, patting his belly, said, “Believe me, I never miss dinner.”

We laughed, so he continued.

“OK, since I have you, why did the umpire have a big belly? Because he always cleaned his plate.”

I had to admire that ump. Not only did he call a good game, he also pulled off a dad joke double play.


Brian Mittge is enjoying the hints of summer to come among the many rainy spring reminders of the winter behind us. Drop him a line at