|Some of the poems were written at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Oregon.|
Anyway, since I had some positive responses on my last post, I decided to expand it. Years ago, I applied to be a writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on Cascade Head partly because I wanted to catch winter steelhead close by. In case you haven't figured it out, most of my major life decisions are made based on proximity to salmon and steelhead fishing.
For eight years on The Starfisher, I trolled and drifted reefs off Cascade Head, and explored rivers north and south on my days off. I was so excited when my application was accepted, I oiled my reels.
When I arrived in January 2004, the weather did not entirely cooperate. A rare ice storm threatened my plans. At the time, I was reading Early Morning by Kim Stafford. The guest book in my Russ' Treehouse studio had entries by Kim, and this gave my adventure a meant-to-be feel. Without hesitation, I put tire chains on to discover I was the only driver foolish enough to be on the road. Later, Oregon.gov noted "President Bush issued a major disaster declaration for 26 Oregon counties affected by the winter storm." I spent a large part of the morning weaving around, or physically removing, fallen alders on the way to my chosen river.
My car radio said schools were closed and issued a warning to "stay off the roads." Like a wounded muskrat, I slowly maneuvered until I made it. "Where in hell did you come from?” a local who had walked down to the river greeted me. “It’s 28 degrees,” he added.
I just smiled and unpacked my gear, thinking of warmer days when Chinese poet Li Po wrote his famous poems about this.
On the still-dark trail there was windless silence but ice-weighted branches fell like spears. The water, however, flowed perfect steelhead green. I was dizzy with cold but determined.
Four hours later I had a fish on who threw the pink-cured prawn and orange Corky. Suddenly, it felt a little warmer. Two minutes after that, I had a really big steelhead on – maybe sixteen pounds -- who broke the line two feet from shore because the cold made me clumsy (fishing buddies would say it had nothing to do with the cold).
Only minutes later I hooked a third steelhead who saw a huge branch floating through the far side of the hole and made for it like a wide receiver going for the end zone. Downriver went the branch and steelhead.
My right brain and left brain, perhaps short-circuited by the cold, engaged in a quick argument. Right – “We can do this. Let’s scramble along that undercut bank and across those boulders. See the river bottom over there? The water can’t be more than five feet, even with the reflection, and you are six feet, more if you get on your toes. Besides, we can cross farther down . . . What’s that? Sure the water is fast there, but it’s shallower too. How bad do you want this fish? Chicken.” Left – “Need I remind you the air is 28 degrees? Can you spell h-y-p-o-t-h-e-r-m-i-a? No fish is worth getting wet. Live to fish another day. You can’t be stupid enough to drive, and crazy enough to leap into a winter river, can you?”
Right, as usual, won, and into the river I went. Water poured over the top of my hip waders as the steelhead leapt in his cage of branches above the tailout. I sprinted downriver to shallower faster water, rod tip high in the air, numb as an Alaskan cadaver in December, and 70 yards later, landed the fish and branch above rapids.
I could go on but was told blog posts need to be short. Suffice it to know the branch was a 40-pound alder, a little smaller than the ones I removed from the road on Cascade Head, but entirely capable of putting up a good fight when attached to a winter steelhead in a swift tailout. I shared my steelhead and story with a painter-in-residence.
Years later, I took a wonderful workshop from Drew Myron at The Sitka Center, and had my all-time favorite reading experience at her Off the Page event in Yachats.