Two wild, summer steelhead hold in the pool just above the falls, sixty-five miles upriver from the ocean. They are joined in water by coastal cutthroat trout and crawdads, on land most immediately by a lush evergreen forest, less immediately by clear-cuts and stands of even-aged timber, and in sky by turkey vultures enjoying the uplifts created by this gorge. There are American dippers too—rock hoppers in the local tongue—that bridge the gap between water, land, and air in their search for aquatic insects. In a longer view all of these beings will at some point bridge the elements, and perhaps that is the most definitive piece of the place where I live: always in transition, flux, conversion; it is all any of us can do to try to glean some stability out of it.
The steelhead returned here from saltwater many months ago, and they will hold here until the rains begin in earnest, calling them farther upriver to their spawning grounds. Unlike salmon, some of the spawners will return to the ocean alive, to come to this place once more before their bodies become the carcasses that feed marine nutrients to this forest.
While the wooded monoculture uphill from their aquatic home is a less idyllic version of transformation, it is one just as well. Living here requires coming to terms with human land management activities. When atop almost any ridge in this place, one can easily see the quilt-block patterned land, hard edges marking the boundaries between timber cuts. It is a sort of awe much different than that inspired by old-growth or salmon or steelhead, but can—to some extent—be reckoned with the understanding that this quilted land provides the material, the employment, and the ability for communities to live here in the modern world.
The place where I live is where my hopes and fears collide, and it is here, in their aftermath, in the processing of dissonance, that I walk away with a surprising sense of sturdiness.