What the River Thinks

Salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout. Fir needles. Salmonberries dropping suddenly and being snapped up by trout who think them orange insects. Alder and spruce roots drinking me always their eager thin little rude roots poking at me. Rocks and pebbles and grains of stone and splinters of stone and huge stones and slabs and beaver and mink and crawdads and feces from the effluent treatment plant upriver. Rain and mist and fog and gale and drizzle and howl and owl. Asters and arrow-grass. Finger creeks feeder creeks streams ditches seeps and springs. Rowboats and rafts. Canoes and chicory. Men and women and children. Dead and alive. Willows and beer bottles and blackberry and ducklings and wood sorrel and rubber boots and foxglove and buttercup and rushes and slugs and snails and velvetgrass and wild cucumber and orbweaver spiders and that woman singing with her feet in me singing. Baneberry and beargrass. Thrush and hemlock and coffee grounds. Thimbleberry and heron. Smelt and moss and water ouzels and bears and bear scat. Bramble and bracken. Elk drinking me cougar drinking me. Ground-cedar and ground-ivy and ground-pine and groundsel. Sometimes a lost loon. Cinquefoil and eelgrass. Vultures and voles. Water striders mosquitos mosquito-hawks. Dock and dewberry. Moths and mergansers. Huckleberry and snowberry. Hawks and osprey. Water wheels and beaver dams. Deer and lupine. Red currant. Trees and logs and trunks and branches and bark and duff. I eat everything. Elderberry and evening primrose. Bulrush and burdock. I know them all. They yearn for me. Caddis fly and coralroot. I do not begin nor do I cease. Foamflower fleeceflower fireweed. I always am always will be. Lily and lotus. Swell and surge and ripple and roar and roil and boil. I go to the Mother. Madrone and mistmaiden. The Mother takes me in. Nettle and ninebark. Pelt and peppergrass. She waits for me. Pine-sap and poppy. I bring her all small waters. Raspberry and rockcress. I draw them I lure them I accept them. Salal and satin-flower. She is all waters. Tansy and trillium. She drinks me. Velvetgrass and vernalgrass. I begin as a sheen on leaves high in the hills, a wet idea, a motion, a dream, a rune, and then I am a ripple, and I gather the small waters to me, the little wet children, the rills of the hills, and we are me and run to Her muscling through wood and stone cutting through everything singing and shouting roiling and rippling and there She is waiting and whispering her salty arms always opening always open always o.

 

Rain in and on and over and through the town, gentle and persistent, gray and gentle, green and insistent, thorough and quiet, respectful and watchful. On Worried Man and Cedar in the Department of Public Works where they hunch over a table strewn and scattered with maps. On Declan staggering along the beach to the hulk of his boat. On Michael the cop as he drives gently through town humming Puccini and thinking of what to make for dinner for his wife Sara and their girls. On Sara as she spades their garden with the two little girls who are digging as fast and furiously as possible looking for worms because their daddy says if they find fifty worms he will take them fishing tomorrow morning rain or shine. On No Horses walking in the hills, up the old quarry road and through the forest and back along the old quarry road once twice three times. On the young female bear two miles upriver from the village where she found a dead elk calf. On Maple Head picking salmonberries in the dark mossy places near the creek near Owen’s shop.  On Owen’s shop where he is hammering and cursing and Moses sits silently on the old football helmet. On Rachel taking off her shirt  with both hands in the deft graceful crosshanded way that women pull their shirts over their heads and on Timmy sitting crosslegged before her watching. On George Christie the former logger oiling the teeth of his chain saw a mile from the bear.

On his wife Anna who sits by the river listening to the river’s excitement after three days of rain. On Grace on her knees in the mud by her father’s grave in the southeast corner of the field where he thought he would die but didn’t. On Nicholas relentlessly lifting weights up down more weight up down more weight up down updown updownupdownup. On his father cleaning rockfish at the co-op you make an incision in the vent of the belly and cut up through the rib cage remove viscera remove the head remove the tail cut filet cut other filet bones and skin tossed left and filets tossed right next fish. On the man with thirteen days to live washing Danny’s long hair in the sink of the doctor’s house. On Danny with his eyes closed and his mind filled with the ocean and his plaster-prisoned legs throbbing. On the doctor smoking his third cigarette of the day, the one called James the son of Zebedee. On the priest in the confessional in the church as he listens to Rachel’s mother pour out her fears for her daughter that she too will conceive and bear a child while she is yet a child.

 

Past a blue heron who snaps at him thinking him a fish, and past Anna Christie rocking and singing with Sara also singing, and past Timmy whistling as he saunters along the river fingering the engagement ring for Rachel in his pocket, and past a merganser duck with eight ducklings soon to be seven courtesy of the female mink watching them, and past Cedar and No Horses who are sitting on Cedar’s hand-hewn salmon-watching bench on the riverbank watching the young osprey in their enormous nest in a fir snag, and past the two mule deer fawns hidden in the cattail thicket behind Trailer Town, and past the man in the big brown coat also hidden in the cattail thicket pondering his options and courses of action and snarling belly, and past Maple Head approaching the thicket her hair silver and black flowing behind her in the breeze her feet light as feathers on the path, past alders mourning into the river and cottonwoods, past salmonberry and blackberry, past Michael the cop in the parking lot behind the fish co-op thinking hard about where Kristi’s father could be hiding, past Owen taking half an hour off to cast for steelhead on general principle and on the off chance that if he catches one the look on Nora’s face at dinner will be a pleasure and a wonder absolutely, under the porch of the doctor’s house where Danny and Kristi and the man with five days to live are laughing, past Worried Man and the doctor taking a lunchtime stroll along the riverbank, past an ouzel underwater, past trout, past a carp the size of a leg near the effluent plant, under water striders, over beaver kits, under coot, over crawdads, past Grace and Declan and Nicholas patching and hammering the boat as it sprawls like an exhausted walrus on the beach where the river meets the sea, over rocks and sticks and cans and bones, past the pair of hungry sea lions at the mouth of the river waiting for salmon and steelhead, on and on he tumbles and whirls, Inch does, his heart hammering, his arms and legs milling wildly, his eyes open, his mouth open, breathing the moan and whir and rumble of the river, the hiss and roar and ripple of it, but as he nears the sea he fails, he fades, he ebbs, his span is spun, his heart slows, his brain cools, and just as he is startled by salt for the first and last time in the eleven minutes of his life he closes his eyes, puts his thumb in his mouth, and enters the ancient endless patient ocean, where all stories end, where all stories are born.