When I finished picking the Ollalie Berries at the Johnny Gunter cabin, the needle on the round blue thermometer on the front porch registered above the ninety-degree mark. At the bottom of the driveway, I turned the pickup downriver to a place where last year the beaver had built a dam across Smith River. The water had backed up into a respectable swimming hole, and in this far upstream world, four-feet-deep is respectable.
For various reasons beaver don’t last long around here, so I had no expectation that the dam remained. Ever hopeful, I pulled the truck into a wide spot between the road and the creek and followed a well-worn path to the stream bank. The tannin water was deep and languid. A small bed of peeled alder sticks rested on the creek bottom, blonde fingers stretching from the bank outward into the channel. The beaver were still here.
I stared into the tea-colored creek. Black basalt cobbles littered the bottom. Half a dozen cutthroat trout the size of my fingers fanned their fins in the nearly still water. Occasionally one rose like a small flesh and bone submarine, dimpled the surface to slurp a floating insect, then turned downstream and disappeared into afternoon shadow. Alder and salmonberry were lush and acrid in the still air.
Sliding out of my shorts and shirt, I picked my way down the steep bank. A cool skin of creek water slid around me. I gasped, caught my breath, stroked upstream, and turned onto my back. The beaver and trout and salmonberries and slow water licked the salt from my body, sending it drifting downstream into summer.