Upon stepping out of my car into the evening air of the river canyon, I felt at once held by the stillness and quiet. There was no sound but the river tumbling over rocks in the shallows, no wind. A bank of mist clung to the air above the water and mingled with the tree canopy.
I made my way from the road, down a small footpath toward the river. Lined with the fallen, decaying leaves of alders, who formed a sparse blanket across the tiny, green ground cover that eased their way from the clay-rich, sandy soils of the river bank.
I passed through the hallways of salmonberry thickets, their dormant sticks building a wall that reaches well above my head on both sides of the path, a gentle tangle of nut brown branches growing skyward from the dampest parts of the earth; no berries, no leaves.
When I find the bank, I chose a place to rest on its shiny, large rock; slimy and damp under the constant wet. Humidity and moisture; fog and mist.
A small grey bird goes tearing through the grove of alders on the opposite bank, weaving like a fighter jet between trees before disappearing around the bend. A long stemmed branch, broken from the crown of a nearby tree had fallen into the river. It’s delicate, spindly branches reaching skyward out of the water, bobbing slightly as the rushing current passed.
Drafts of chilly air wafted toward me across the body of the river, cooling my exposed skin. An ancient looking salmon with scaly patches of white circled in the depths; at first I mistook him for a rock. I stand at the bank watching the salmon for a long time. The current is swift here and he makes slow progress.
I stare into the water so long that the world around me almost seems to swirl, spiraling out and away, expanding into the infinite as the sky grows dark. My breath clouds in the air before me, and daylight is slowly slipping from the narrow crest of sky in this deep, treed canyon. The reflection of waning daylight off the river seems to intensify as the forest fringes grow darker. Night closes in all around me. I can still see the motion of the salmon, his great body still treading the current, when I close my eyes.
When the light is gone, I return the way I came, navigating back up the slimy hill in darkness. The moon is peeking through the trees toward the west and it glows a deep gold. The earth smells like clay mud, moss, and broken branches. Somewhere on the hill above me, an owl hoots softly.
I reach the road, and I stand out in the middle for a while, watching the moon through the trees. I think of all the animals bedding down in the forest; I wish I was an animal of the forest, too. I imagine myself in the dry underbrush, curled up on a bed of boughs, sleeping quietly under the light of the moon. I imagine myself as a salmon, quietly treading in the crisp, cold water of the river, always on a journey. I wonder what lessons I would learn from returning to the forest, becoming an animal again. Instead, I press a button to illuminate the headlights as I unlock my door, and begin the return to my domesticated life in the city, feeling forever half-feral in my heart— always longing, calling out for something else, never satisfied and never home.