A Literary Series
Some things, even important things like another news day of scandal (the whole ditch-flow of murk where there ought to be a president) flow by, and you don’t hear them. But throw a rock—throw 90—in a river, and you listen every time: that splash, that splunk, that ricochet-click off a boulder, the pa-lop from a bigger rock lofted where it’s deeper… every time… and four crows scrawking; I guess they like it too.
This could be any river. It doesn’t have to be the Cowlitz. You don’t have to be a kid like I was, spending the weekend with my friend’s family at their cabin: an A-frame somewhere called Packwood, close to White Pass.
I went to sleep wondering: Would your thoughts be different if you lived by a river? Colder, maybe? Always moving? Knowing the way?
• • •
Of course, this happened a long time ago. There might have been three crows, or five, not four. They were blacker than the ones on the playground at our school. There were boulders in the river stacked with snowcaps. And the sky seemed grayer, like the clouds were lower, but they weren’t. We were just in the mountains.
• • •
Maybe what’s needed is a flipbook so the president can understand, can flip ahead to see the outcome in advance: Pick Betsy DeVos for Education—flip—and see it gone, defunded, thrown away; or pick Scott Pruitt, make him EPA administrator—flip—and now we’re in Alaska by a poisoned Bristol Bay. Who knew? Who could have predicted that a gold mine called Northern Dynasty Minerals would ever cause harm, would toxify a watershed, would fill up streams with chemicals, would starve the tribal nations and force them to move?
Sixty million salmon knew. And 4,000 acres of tundra. And an earthquake zone. And a flipbook. Everyone knew.
Well, maybe not Wayne LaPierre. He’s pretty single-minded. Here’s Wayne LaPierre as Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat machine guns.”
• • •
I know a man named Lee Boulet. I’ve known him my whole life. He’s the opposite. When he goes to the mountains in the fall, he fills his truck with a load of pumpkins.
Elk step out from the trees when he gets there. Like solid ghosts. Like antlered thankfulness. They stand around eating for an hour, rinds and stems and all.
The Boulet’s backyard slopes down to Clark’s Creek, and one time Lee was in his waders, fishing. In books, fish lived in the ocean, so this wasn’t right, wasn’t true; I was a kid; I thought he was teasing me, but no. Salmon would swim right by sometimes, back to spawn, probably near the hatchery. First-graders went there on field trips, so I should have known: thousands and thousands of fingerlings released in Clark’s Creek ~ the Puyallup River ~ Commencement Bay ~ Puget Sound ~ the Strait of Juan de Fuca ~ then the open ocean ~ then back again. It’s quite a journey. Even without all the concrete dams. Even without a kid on the bank with a net.
• • •
The dams are a problem, so people try solutions, some of them simple as a fish ladder, some of them not.
I like the one with the vacuum system, and a tube like a giant straw. Salmon get drawn from the base of the dam, water and all—sucked up and pumped over. What a weird story to pass on as archetype, imprint on the next generation: Then you shall come to the Place of Reversal, where the river suddenly pulls, and you rise and you’re launched into flying, but do not fear.
Another way isn’t so magical. They’re just driven around in trucks: into the bed, up the road, then dumped back out, which sounds boring ’til you think about it; who does that job, and what is their title? Ichthyological taxi driver, endangered-salmon chauffer, the perfect gig for a Pisces, the catcher in the rye? Well, not rye but the river. Someone with Salinger’s book on the dashboard, reading a bit between runs, and Holden calling out the phonies for doing this to fish, to water, to the ocean’s pulse: goddamn.
• • •
There’s this dove outside now, picking up twigs and the bleached leaves of last year’s irises. He’s setting them down again, picking them up. He’s not acting on impulse; he’s weighing.
Then he flies to my roof, then somewhere else, then back for more. He’s building a nest. He’s putting his beak to good use, a real purpose, while the president can’t use his own mouth for anything but lies and slurs and a stream of idiot-splutter.
“You know, I really believe,” he said, “you don’t know this until you test it… but I think I… I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” This about a high school massacre, 17 murdered in Florida.
And then this about teachers bringing guns to work, another thing for their supply lists: whiteboard markers, and a three-hole punch, and construction paper, and an EpiPen, and the number for Family Services, and patience as long as river, and now also guns: “I want highly trained people,” he says, “that have a natural talent. Like hitting a baseball, or hitting a golf ball, or putting. How come some people always make the four-footer?”
I don’t know. But that’s not the question. The question is: What sort of bird would build a nest with that?
• • •
The dove’s been at it all day; that’s one thing. And my cat’s been patient; that’s another. He knows that sometimes birds forget he’s there, stray close and get lazy. He can move like a river when he wants to, swift, a cascade over his foreclaws, then a heavy stillness like water piled behind a log fallen down across the current.
This could be any river. It doesn’t have to be the Cowlitz—like the Methow in the Okanogans, flowing past Twisp; or the Pearl; or the Green in central Utah… you can fill in whatever name you want; that’s what water would do.
But don’t forget this: By now some seeds have taken root up there, hidden in the Cascade Mountains, all those evergreens and ferns now dotted with orange. A patch of pumpkins. I can copy my map for you. That way we’ll have a secret, our own good thing that keeps growing, where we can go back.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.
Header photo courtesy Pixabay.