A few updates, with punctuation, although this will again be a free association of sorts. That is what happens when the time available diminishes and the list of things to do grows, something suffers the consequences.
I went fishing a few days ago. In a storm. A big storm. Mostly wind, in the 45-60 MPH gust category. Fair amount of rain too. It was glorious. I was excited to be out there, rain sheeting sideways across the water, fishing a place I have not seen for darn near forty years. Parts of the river have changed, for the worse, much of the access is gone, but in the storm, in wind and noise and the last few hours of daylight, it was as if I was there all those years ago. I had the same anticipation, knowing there must be steelhead there, but not knowing if it was so.
I didn’t catch anything, of course, but I didn’t fall in while wading, and I had the river to myself for those few hours. I fished indicators and Starlight Leeches though little pockets, around snags, under cut banks, and through one perfect pool.
Yesterday I got out for an hour at dusk. A Bald eagle was out hunting too, like me. Those great predatory birds were not in my decades-past memory banks; a success story in the conservation world. I doubt that salmon and steelhead have increased in this river the way the eagles have here, but I really don’t know.
There is much we do not understand about our anadromous fish. Time marches on. Trophy homes have replaced farms and moldy cabins along streams. Public access has been denied in many places. The rivers and fish have endured floods, hot summers, fishing, and in some places, hatchery fish. I look at our rivers these days and see them in quite a different way than I did when I was 18.
I found a beautiful river tooth on a gravel bar last week. A remnant of giant Spruce trees that populated this river valley. All gone. Wood in those trees was precious to manufacture of British Mosquito Bombers in WW II. The war was won by the good guys, the world is a better place than if the bad guys had won, but the great trees are gone.
I drive the roads along any coastal river, and see places where my route has cut the river off from its flood plan, forever, stealing winter rearing habitat from young salmon and steelhead. Without deliberating the harm done by logging, farming, fishing, hatcheries, seals, and the long list, I see rivers forever changed from what they were before whites came and began taming the land and the waters. I have no tears, no blame, and no use for regret. I am able to sit here in my little cabin, with my propane stove, looking out at frost on the grass, wood smoke raising from neighbors homes, cows in the farm across the gravel road — because of everything that happened before. I sit here at my computer where Native American Indians had a village, a century ago. Today I will work on installing a new water heater in an unheated closet and worry about whether or not it will freeze on me.
Meanwhile, coho eggs are nestled in the gravel, and maybe even some chum eggs too. Young steelhead are finding shelter from the high water we are enduring, while fresh, chrome adults stage in tidewater, ready to surge upriver. The runs of salmon and steelhead are not what they once were, I sincerely believe, just as our world, for all of our civilization, is not what it was. I am certain that my time here is waning. I have no patience for lamenting change that occurred over the last century. I think I understand some of it, but have no way of prognosticating what would have happened if different choices had been made. I do care about choices we make today, and choices we will make tomorrow. Anyone who is attracted to movie themes about time travel can wonder how much our individual choices make in determining the future; the future of the world economy; the future of our friends and families; the future of salmon and steelhead.
Fate? The future is what we make of it. Or have made of it already. Heaven and Hell? If you are reading this, if you have a computer and a place to live and can turn on the tap and get clean water to drink and have food every day, most likely you are living in heaven, a place that about five billion human beings would trade their life for yours in a heartbeat. Hell? Hell is all around us too. Sometimes it is close, sometimes far away, clear around the world. We probably don’t need to look five minutes from where we are right now to find women and children who are abused. I walk to my refrigerator and lament the left-overs on the menu today, but a billion people may not eat at all today.
Sorry. This was going to be about fishing. This was going to about a river still alive after four decades. About wild steelhead and salmon. About hope for the future. And it is, it really is. The wild steelhead’s spirit is strong and resilient. If given half a chance. The Human spirit is strong and resilient under the most desperate conditions. Those of us who really care about steelhead and salmon need to keep fighting for their future.
We should pause, for a moment, to remember that today, someone will die in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Iran, or Syria, or Somalia, or Jamaica, or in our cozy little USA town – someone will die from neglect, starvation, violence, illness, or some condition that we, today, are immune from. Tomorrow, we might not be immune. Tomorrow, the future of salmon and steelhead might not be number one on our list.
But today, it’s OK for us to obsess about catching a steelhead, or saving a steelhead, or cooking a steelhead, or tying a steelhead fly, or some new rod or reel or hook.
It really is OK. It’s what I’m going to do today.
God. I did it again.
January 27, 2012