Sunday, August 26, 2012

fisherman's island

There's a spot up the river, just around the bend, where the sand rises up to create a small island with a creek running through it. South of the creek the island is nothing more than a spit of sand, a slight ridge rising like the hackles of an angry dog. The creek is a three-foot-wide shallow stream of water coursing over small stones, a diagonal slash, and the main part of the island is rolling sand and swaying grass. Often there are prints of deer and coyote, the occasional fisherman. The island is about 20 feet long and 15 feet wide.

I walk to the island via the river, which I get to by descending the steep bank at the end of the path that starts at the house. The path cuts through an old farm field now overgrown with wildflowers and grass and shrubby trees, and ends at the top of the bank, which is a strip of cool forest. The previous owners of this property built a stairway of stone that leads a short way down the wooded bank to a trail that traverses the slope and then leaves you at a sharp drop of three or four feet to get to the river. There are a couple of steps toed and heeled into the dirt and some trees to hold on to, but be careful.

The river bank.

The river is clear and cold with a nice current. You can float down river at a comfortable pace and easily abort your trip by grabbing onto a windfallen tree, of which there are many, or just getting your feet under you and standing up. Water depth varies from ankle deep to a little over waist deep, though throughout the river there are deeper pools where the bottom disappears. In my stretch, the river bottom is almost always visible, and the bed varies between sand, muck, pebbles, and lost trees. One day I discovered a skull. It was in profile, and I decided it must be a deer skull, because of the ear.

The skull in the river. Can you see it?

The other day I noticed the skull was covered with sand. Made me wonder what else might be buried in the river.

I walk against the current to get to the island, and as I approach I veer to the left to walk up the creek. To the right of the island the current gets slap happy - it courses over, under, and around fallen trees and dips deep into pockets. I will exit the island via that route, happy to let it sweep me off my feet.

On the island I look around a bit, then sit on a small beach of pebbles. I stretch my legs out before me, resting them in the cold water. I look across the swift current to the steep sandy bank that faces southwest, not more than a fallen cedar's length away. The bank is dotted with purple wildflowers and spiky dry stalks of mullein. The maple and spruce and cedar at the top of the bank grow right to the edge, their roots hanging down like dreadlocks as the riverbank below erodes. They will topple into the river someday, but this past winter they held bald eagles.

Fisherman's Island.

I skip stones, playing a game, trying to see how many I can skip over a fallen tree that is, now, just a big piece of driftwood that never drifted anywhere, just had the river drifting over it, smoothing away the bark and carrying off clinging branches. A good length of it is almost wholly submerged - just a glimmer of water flows over it - and that's the spot I aim for, pleased with the number of pebbles that hit the water just in front of the log, then skip past.

I look upriver and notice trees swaying in a breeze. The trees atop the opposite bank do not sway, and neither do I feel the breeze. Then the trees behind me sway. Suddenly I feel the lightest rush of air against my skin. The trees on the opposite bank remain still. I walk into the river, shudder with the cold, float home.

After a heavy rain, the river will become a thick muddy brown and Fisherman's Island will completely disappear. I like to walk to a spot where I can look down on the island, and I always feel vaguely pleased that it is no longer there.

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