Friday, December 3, 2010


For the past several days I walked and waded a gem of a coastal river. I'd arrived ahead of the steelhead but that didn't keep me from exploring the sandbars and side-streams, nor from experiencing the changes in the river's smell and taste, its rise and fall, caused by changes in the ocean tide --- an experience quite different from those I have on the inland rivers I regularly search for steelhead.

On this trip, I satisfied a long-standing desire to swing a steelhead fly in the fog and shadows of a redwood forest. Half a dozen feisty smolt harassed my fly and let me know there was new life in the river; that there was another generation gathering size and strength in preparation for a journey to the sea.

Despite everything my reasoning mind knows about the decline of steelhead populations on this river, and with the image of the clear-cut forest I'd wandered into fresh in my mind, I felt hopeful in the way I always do when I'm in touch with the primordial.

When I wasn't exploring the river I was reading Visions from San Francisco Bay, a collection of essays written by Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning poet whose writing and thinking influence my own writing and thinking. The book was a gift from Jim DenBoer, another award-winning poet who also influences my writing and thinking.

On the morning I took the photograph above, as the sun burned through the fog, I walked and waded and thought about some lines by Milosz that were almost haunting me:

"The last spiritual remnants of the epoch of the steam engine are already disintegrating and dying out; man has found himself before something still unnamed, and though his consciousness lags behind general transformations, he does perceive that everything now happening to our entire species is enormous, ominous, and perhaps ultimate."

A logging truck banged down the rutted road above and behind me. When the truck stopped at the locked gate that bars the public from private timber land, I listened to its diesel engine idle, its door creak open. The door slammed shut and the truck banged off into a landscape that absorbed its sound.

Right then, a smolt bit at the wings on my wet fly, each attack sending a shiver of its life-force up the fly line and into my hand.

A merganzer surfaced nearby and I thought for a moment that a big fish was in the river with me. The fish duck, as they're sometimes called, shook his beak and spiky, feathered Mohawk in my direction and disappeared back into the water.

In that moment, the river's current felt eternal.