“This is incredible,” we said to each other more than once. “A nine-mile walk practically in the city limits and we haven’t seen a soul!”

True, it was overcast, but that’s not much of a deterrent for hikers around here. Sandhill cranes clattered across the sky. Tundra swans fwapped across the lake. Eagles and red-tailed hawks scared the crap out of small mammals everywhere.

My niece Elizabeth and I like nothing better than to go for a hike, but so many people have moved to Portland to dilute the weirdness that our favorite spots are getting a little too much wear. The rain helps thin the crowds. Still, it was remarkable that we saw nobody on this trail, even though there were two or three other cars parked at the beginning. It was a dream come true.

It was my suggestion. I’d been on this trail just a few months ago but didn’t get all that far because I was with birders, who are excitable but trudgy and don’t necessarily get a lot of steps in. I wanted to see how far the trail went and I wanted to get my heart rate up. We parked at a closed gate, about a mile sooner than the last time I was here.

Sauvie Island is an island, but it’s not like a dot in a lake. It’s a big bolus in the throat where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers swap spit, and from the air it looks more like a giant gravel bar with some pretension to it. And that is indeed what it is; it’s just a bunch of silt and stuff that started glomming onto a couple ancestral bumpy bits. There’s a big lake in the middle and a mix of farmland and wildlife areas. It’s one-third bird poop by volume. It’s rich.

And unless you have an old Republican relative who put you in his will before going to that tax haven in the sky, you can’t afford any of it. We don’t have one of those in our family. So we can’t see sandhill cranes from our kitchen window, but Thanksgivings are pleasant.

The place does flood from time to time. I remember seeing video of the water when it breached the dikes, and covered the roads by just a few inches. It looked like cars were driving right on top of a lake, like maybe Jesus finally took the wheel. But we weren’t having enough rain to worry about that. We could conceivably worry about the big earthquake that God has penciled in for us, but we wouldn’t be any screweder there than anywhere else.

Well, it was a grand day, and we bought our permit and we tromped and tromped and talked and talked, and it wasn’t until we were halfway back that we saw our first human: a car was heading our way. We stepped aside and waved it on in a friendly way, but it stopped, and the nice state trooper inside rolled down his window and asked if we knew we weren’t allowed on the trail, which is (apparently) closed from October to April? I turned to Elizabeth and said “That must be why we didn’t see anyone all day!” as though I’d had no idea, and I totally sold it because I had no idea. The trooper was kind but looked a little pained. “There are signs all over the place,” he said. Elizabeth started chirping about the signs and how she’d noticed how many there were: No dogs, no alcohol, day use only, etc. So many signs! Maybe, she suggested, we didn’t read every last one of them.

The trooper mentioned all the signs again. We kept chirping. We said we were sorry, and we sold it, because we were. The trooper let us off with a warning. And mentioned all the signs one last time, and drove off.

I’ve never gotten into trouble with a cop. No doubt that is because I’ve been white all my life, but also I think it quickly becomes clear to an observer that all my neurons are busy yacking away at once but they’re not necessarily hooking up.

And my niece Elizabeth: the genetics run strong in that one. Let’s put it this way: we could be hiking and gabbing away and we’d start up a hill and have to bushwhack a bit through tall brush and comment on the false summit and we wouldn’t notice we were on a sleeping mastodon till we came down the other side and saw the tusks. This is true.

I think the nice trooper could see that.