Discovering the Ark Saucer of Sauvie Island

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Above: The Columbia River, as seen from Broughton Beach near Portland International Airport during a typically drizzly winter morning.


t was just meant to be a regular walk along the Columbia River beaches of Oregon’s Sauvie Island on a cool, gray winter morning. Who knew that we would stumble upon a multicolored, saucer-shaped ark, and that it would lead us toward the life of genius inventor Richard Ensign.

In the winter months, Sauvie Island, the massive river island which lies just northwest of Portland and Vancouver, is barren and lonely, and its agricultural fields are all flood and mud. I notice something bright blue set back behind the beach.

Portland’s housing crisis has meant a swell of hidden encampments in places where most people never care to look; and after surprising enough wary homesteaders, I’ve become more cautious. Just the sight of the color blue—tarp shelter.

Signs on this isolated beach remind us: Collins Beach is clothing-optional. It’s just warmer than freezing, the sky is damp. We are the only ones here, I think.

Still, I am cautious about that structure up ahead. Through the binoculars, I change my opinion. “It’s not a shelter. It’s a vehicle?”

Kellan, my eleven year old son, now sees that as well, and he runs ahead, holding his video camera as he approaches.

My wife and I follow, walking along installations of handmade mobiles and windchimes, hung alongside the Columbia River in past seasons from sun weathered driftwood branches.

When we arrive at the edge of the beach and woods, there it is, this monstrous vehicle, graffitied in brilliant paint. Kellan announces: it’s some sort of boat. He thinks it’s not made of fiberglass. Or wood. Some kind of stone. Maybe concrete, papa?

But as we gawk over the intricate graffiti, Kellan is live on the mic. “It is shaped like a flying saucer!” He is trying to get inside the round-portholed trimaran.

I climb up a carefully placed log to the ship’s deck, and looking inside, I see Kellan’s shadowy figure, speaking to his Youtube audience. Why it is here, I do not know. What it is doing on this beach, I have no idea.

When his video session ends, I enter. “What do you think this is?” he asks. “Why don’t we try to find out more about it?” I reply. Somehow, I don’t need to say it. He’s been bitten by a bug to document our find, a story that is just his own.

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