Thursday, October 22, 2009

Steelheaders Ills

Cradling the wild fish in the rivers glacial currents stung my hands. Her prominent reflective scales flashed silver in the late afternoon sun. A hint of pink flecked from the rhythmical movement of her gills continuing down here lateral line. River bottom was visible through the distal tips of her pectoral fins, now steady and flared at her side. I still remember upon first bringing her to hand the milky white appearance of her plumb belly and the scar that lingered at her wrist. With the powerful flick of her broad tail she vanished; a phenomenon I’ve witnessed hundreds of times that lends a hint of doubt that she or others were even there.

As arduous as her life passage is, it pales by comparison to those steelhead that travel in my home waters in search of those rivulets of their birth; she passes no dams nor through the toxic waters that lie behind them. Upon her return and those of her smolt they will not know the burden and the toll such ill conceived atrocities take on their kind. They will not now the indignity of being loaded into a barge and boated through stagnant obstacles; a distance they could easily manage themselves, yet such navigation often become fatal. The fact that many steelhead survive such a journey is testament to their kind. Instead this beautiful hen and those of this pristine drainage migrate through flowing waters unimpeded by man; a luxury that few other races of steelhead encounter these days.

Slowly I stood, mentally reliving the brief encounter taking stock of the scale of the experience. Before me a free flowing river that dwarfs those waters that make her whole. Her arteries fed from a resilient yet threatened labyrinth of glacial basins each sustaining their own unique species of steelhead. For the most part these stocks remain relatively healthy, yet some stocks swim these currents no more victims of commercial netting that could have easily been prevented. Given the world’s climates and other encroachments, these remaining stocks also seem to be following a similar fate. Each passing year I seem to ponder such notions more, yet marvel in wonderment at the grandness of this country resilient fish and the totality of what draws me here.

A formidable wall of ancient cottonwoods resplendent in fall color stand guard over this emerald corridor. Recent snows dust the granite peaks that tower overhead in all directions. Wisps of vapor dance around their formidable summits. October’s sun radiates upward from the expansive field of neatly strewn boulders where I ponder the plight of these fish, this vulnerable landscape and its rivers knowing the greed of man can change all with the stroke of a pen. The native peoples of this land whose lives for centuries lived in harmony with these resources know of such fates.

For decades I have wandered liquid highways a driven soul where steelhead have migrated since ancient times; an event so purposeful and eminent it lends a humble perspective. Each year the urge to return knowing life’s journey comes to and end becomes much stronger, the sorrow in leaving more painful. Wilderness, their rivers and their mysterious travelers evoke such thoughts and emotion.

Content I again enter the river my pace now tempered finding solace in each cast, and the gentle arc of the line as it slides across the water. Periodically I lean back taking stock knowing my travels here are coming to an end, yet in the same thought recognize my fortunes in having such opportunities. Upon returning home, I know I’ll ponder with detail these days and count the time between until I return. These are the ills of those who wander these landscapes in pursuit of such a noble fish.