Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Burning River

We are cold and we are lonely. Though no one will admit it, there is an air of unease in the boat as we slide from one stop to the next, searching. This is a river with many friends but today it has only us to entertain, and we are strangers. The oily black water between her banks is a puzzle, intimate and inviting while at once overwhelming and intimidating. Stare at it for too long, and it will swallow you.

The great salmon orgy of September and October is by now a distant memory but the ensuing smell of death lingers, growing more faint with each passing day. A misplaced step along the bank stirs the sour aroma of rotting flesh and reminds us of what was.

It was not long ago that the forest was ablaze with the colors of autumn. Today, harsh and grey, the blaze is reduced to ashes and embers. And it is these embers, the river's wild steelhead, whose warmth we seek. Bearers of the color torch, they bring light to an oft dim and dark place until spring arrives to dress the forest once again. With chapped cheeks and icy guides and cracked knuckles, we kick through the ashes, searching.

At an intersection of currents there is a spark. It is faint at first but increasingly pronounced as it rises.

A flicker of cherry red becomes a flash and then a streak. It is fleeing but now we have seen its glow and felt its warmth and refuse to concede. For a frantic moment it seems destined to burn out, but we are quick to rekindle it. Soon it grows closer and brighter and suddenly it is a soaring flame.

We are not cold any longer.

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