At a Moment of Transient Beauty

Aki and I arrive at this riverine meadow at a moment of transient beauty. Last night’s rain has coalesced into small sacks of water that still cling to the purple lupine flowers and their stalks. Weak sunlight manages to break through a grey canopy of low clouds to turn the drops into jewels.

Across the river four eagles have spaced themselves out on a driftwood log. As if performing as a drill team, they rise from the log one after another until only one remains. At first I attribute this as a display of eagle wisdom for a river and several hundred meters separate us from the birds. Only the one who stayed wore the white and brown feathers of a mature bird. The three that flew sport the mottled cloak of immature eagles. Then I noticed the mature bird’s posture and realized that he is drying his feathers.

We find more eagles and many ravens hanging by the river watching the corpses of  dead chum salmon lying on the trail. The fish rode the high tide into the meadow and could not find their way back to the river channel on the ebb. Some bird plucked out each fish’s eye. Otherwise they were intact. This surprises given all the scavengers about.

Something splashes in a tiny water course that drains the meadow. Aki breaks toward the noise and finds a half a dozen chum salmon striving forward. Unless they turn back to the river they will be stranded by the outgoing tide. The watercourse, which dead ends in a hundred meters goes dry at low tide. Aki approaches the fish cautiously as if to see if they want to play. When they splash ahead she jumps back and returns to my side.

The sun breaks through when we leave the meadow for an trail through old growth spruce where I feed on rain washed blue berries growing along the trail. Enjoying the bitter sweetness of berries eaten in a soon to disappear shaft of sunlight, I listen to a large school of salmon splashing along a nearby river gravel bar. A bear could easily pluck them from the shallows but we see no scat, tracks, or partially consumed fish bodies.  Many dead salmon lie on the gravel bar. None shows a mark of being touched by bear or bird. Near them I find a patch of drying mud that shows the tracks of squirming salmon that passed over the bar last night and a single print of a bear’s paw made when it turned on its heal to lunge for a fish.

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