Reading the rivers
In 2008, the West's rivers are loved and threatened as never before. We invited three of America's best writers to tell us what rivers mean to them
TOBIAS WOLFF FISHES FOR STEELHEAD ANDMEMORIES ON THE SKAGIT
The Skagit River
Source: Cascade Mountains, British Columbia
Length: 160 miles
Mouth: Puget Sound, Washington
Watershed: 3,130 square miles
A river runs deep in my memory, as it once ran deep in my life -the Skagit River, in northern Washington. As a boy I lived in asmall village right on the Skagit. My bedroom faced the river,maybe 100 yards away, and for many years I fell asleep to the deep,steady sigh of its flowing, as much a physical sensation as asound.
In the light of day, the river took on a dark emerald tintborrowed from the spruces, pines, and firs that bristled down theslopes of the Cascades to its very banks. Though not much given toaesthetic reflection, I thought even then that it was beautiful. Myfriends and I fished it for steelhead and trout, but left thesalmon alone as they fought their way upstream to spawn. The baldeagles were less compassionate. They congregated just upstream fromMarblemount, where we changed buses on our long drive to school,and we sometimes played truant for a day to watch them hunt -skimming just inches above the water, then lifting their thrashingprey to the topmost branches of a tree.
It was beautiful, the river, but no ornament. We were constantlywarned of its dangers, and inevitably a boy from our villagedrowned. This added a deeper shade to its color, a darker timbre toits voice, but I loved it no less. When I finally left, I hadtrouble sleeping. Nights without that breathing presence seemed sohollow, airless. I still miss it.
Tobias Wolff is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor inthe Humanities at Stanford University; Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories will be publishedthis month.