Updated: Mar 4
“Thor held his focus. He knew what he was going to do. And in the end, he became a pure artist. Maybe the greatest artist of us all. And he lives in his creation.” Michael Malcolm
One October day, Thor takes me for a walk down to the river. As we follow the tracks towards the Fisherman’s Trail, he tells me that Brackie has died. We all knew it was coming – she was so old, and sore, and didn’t even really want to go for walks any more. I’d followed Brackie down every trail she would take me over the years, and fell in love with Brackendale along the way. Now she’s gone. I ask Thor what he did with her body, and he won’t say. He is very quiet today.
We enter a leafy tunnel of berry bushes that opens into an old growth cathedral on the riverbank. I know this place well – Brackie showed it to me. But I never noticed the scars along the tree trunks Thor is pointing out now – long arrows of softer, smoother wood carved into the rough surfaces of the trees. “Bears?” I ask. “No, says Thor. “The natives would pull strips of bark off the trees and make baskets out of them to carry fish from the river.” This is what we are here to see. The salmon are spawning, and Thor is taking me for a tour.
Down below the bank, a pair of fisherman have their backs to us and their lines in the water. I ask Thor why he isn’t out fishing too. He snorts derisively. “Fishing during spawning season is like hangin’ your dick out at a whorehouse,” he says. “Pardon the expression. But it’s pretty pointless. You wouldn’t bring one of those things home for dinner. I’ll show you what I mean.”
He disappears into the bush and I follow him along the bank. The river is rushing to our left, so I have an idea where we are, but the path we’re following – if it can be called a path – seems detectable only by my guide. I follow closely, and we wind up on the river bottom – a maze of tributaries, sand banks and thick vegetation, all stinking to high heaven of dead fish. Dorte discourages me from taking the dogs to the river in the fall for this very reason. The banks are littered with salmon carcasses, and the dogs love to roll in them.
We hop over one rushing rivulet and traverse a fallen tree trunk to span another. We are surrounded by small islets, constantly being carved by the river’s ever-changing course. Some of them are more permanent than others, housing entire ecosystems in thirty-foot tall cottonwoods. Below them are willow wands waving in welcome.
A sudden movement to my left catches my eye – a splash in the water. Then another one to the right. After I couple of moments I realize that the river all around us is boiling with salmon swimming furiously, exhaustedly, upstream. They are so intent upon their goal it would have been easy to catch one by hand. Their fearlessness and proximity allow for close inspection, which reveals that they are in very sorry shape indeed. Bodies torn, skin grayish and flapping, their near-dead bodies already decaying. Horrible, except for their noble purpose – to spawn, propagate their species, and in death, feed the ecosystem as fertilizer, carried by winged raptors for recycling. A perfect circle of life.
We head back a different way from which we came, through deep, thick brush. At some point, we lose the sound of the river and I lose my bearings completely. Thor knows exactly where we are, though. He’s brought me here on purpose. The sky suddenly opens up all around us. We are in a sunny glade, twinkling with autumn colors. Cascades of leaves are swirling down in the breeze. It takes me a moment to realize that hidden in the waving grasses below are a small collection of wooden crosses.
“It’s the old Squamish Indian graveyard,” says Thor. We are both silent for a while, reading the names on the crosses, pondering the lives that were lived and the time that has passed since then. “They were burying their dead here for a long time before anybody told them about crosses.”
“Do you bring people here on your eagle walks?” I ask.
“Are you crazy?” said Thor. “And don’t you be bringing anyone here either.” He has nothing to fear on that score. The labrynthian path we have taken is a thorough deterrent. I will never be able to find my own way back here, much less bring anyone. Anyway, it is enough to see it once.
Heading back, we pass through another stand of old growth forest. Looking up at the great columns I notice that some of these trees have glaring fluorescent tape tied around them. Are these to be taken down? I wonder. I am about to ask when we emerge at the tree tracks, and are distracted by a low, ominous rumbling. We climb up on to the tracks and see a great bulldozer mowing down trees on the other side. The land has been sold, Thor tells me, and construction of a new subdivision is to begin there soon. “It’s a holocaust,” I say.
“It can’t be helped,” said Thor. “So there’s no use talking about it. We do what we can, and we try to get along.”
We follow the tracks home. The space between the rails up ahead is very empty without Brackie leading the way. But it can’t be helped, so there’s no use talking about it.