- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The maze of girders looked extremely high overhead; the unfortunate man had been plainly determined not to survive.
"Who was it?" Bil Gilbert asked. "A stranger?"
"No," said the truck driver sadly. "He was a prominent man."
He returned to his truck and headed back in the direction of Valemount. The thought of coming upon the body of a prominent man deep in the wilderness somewhat checked any elation we felt at starting out. But there is always an instant of concentrated excitement in starting down a new river, regardless of any dispiriting prospect ahead. Waldrop, alone in one canoe, got away first, paddling hard and sashaying around boulders like someone learning to ride a bicycle. I was the bowman in Gilbert's canoe. "All ready?" Gilbert asked. We went sliding away fast, into the animated world that is compounded of fresh air, wind, noisy current and the ceaseless attention demanded by the changes in the racing water. There was just time enough to say, "Some current," or "What a river," or make some equally profound observation when glimpses of rocks under the surface and occasional resonant submarine boomings as the bottom scraped on rocks kept us too busy to observe anything else.
Below the long, rough glide the river was deep, an unbroken gray-green surface, with occasional eddies and rings and swirls that raced downstream as soon as they formed. A few miles on there was mild and riffly water, running fast and smoothly. The river was silent except for noisy passages from time to time caused by shoals at the bends. These hummed and buzzed in the late-summer woods. Sometimes a splash made one think a fish had jumped near, but the sound came from trees seesawing in the hurrying water.
Deeper in the woods the Canoe River retired into a world where it really seemed that nothing had ever happened. As we rounded a bend a hawk dropped silently on a kingfisher, only a few feet in front of the canoe. The two birds seemed to hang suspended in the air for a few moments as the canoe drifted near. Then they exploded in a Hurry that ended when the kingfisher broke free. They both hit the water. Almost at once they were in the air again, separated. The hawk seemed to spring upward before it struck, slantingly this time, the kingfisher plainly in its claws. "A goshawk," Gilbert called to Waldrop in the other canoe. "He got a kingfisher." Much of Gilbert's adult life has been spent trapping and banding hawks.
The hawk had paid no attention to the canoe, but at the sound it turned in the air. The kingfisher dropped free and skimmed very low across the water to land on a stick projecting from a tangle of driftwood. The hawk turned in a half circle to look us over, and then perched on a gray snag across the river from its intended prey and watched us with morose dislike as we drifted away. "I shouldn't have yelled," Gilbert said. "It scared him."
Around another bend two deer poised on a sun-washed gravel bank a hundred yards downstream, watching us approach. One shifted uneasily in the shadow of small birch trees; the other stood almost negligently in the open, at the edge of the water. We stopped paddling and drifted straight toward them. There was no sound except the drowsy wash of the water and the splash of minute waves against the canoe. Apparently these aluminum craft were too unfamiliar to be very alarming—merely some strange shape, gleaming, clawless and unthreatening, for we were not more than a hundred feet away when the deer turned unhurriedly and went into the woods. Around another bend a moose, not fully grown, stood on a slight grassy knoll, its head down, looking at the water, evidently undecided about crossing the river. When it finally saw the canoe we were within the distance of a Don't Walk sign. The moose turned and stumbled into the woods in an awkward, embarrassed fashion, like someone trying to avoid meeting an acquaintance he does not want to see.
Were there animal eyes watching us from behind the trees all along the river? Every 200 feet or so along the Canoe there were sandbanks, smooth as boat-launching ramps, sloping down from the forest floor, and these were covered with tracks—raccoon, black bear, grizzlies, moose, deer, marten, wolverine, mink, otter, prints readily identified in a copy of Olaus Murie's Field Guide to Animal Tracks, which Bil Gilbert carried with him—all sorts of tracks except the tracks of human beings. These would soon be there: seven lumber companies had combined to put a road down the east bank of the Canoe River so they could take out the trees in the area to be flooded. Ours was the last trip down the Canoe before the major changes, and even we were a little too late, for logging had begun. But it was still wild enough. The river was dropping fast, a hundred feet in eight miles, but flowing smoothly, as if it were solid—gliding at the same speed along the bottom and at the surface. We went back and forth across the narrow valley, sometimes facing the Rockies on the east, sometimes the confusion of rocks and snow and knife-edged flint pyramids that made up the Monashee Mountains—so named from a Gaelic word meaning mountain of peace—reaching south along the Columbia. At each hairpin turn the current speeded up. Then, at the next straight stretch, it was possible to see the river slanting down a real grade, like a gentle hill of water, with lodgepole pines lining the bank as regularly as if they had been planted in rows. And beyond these, white and gold in the sunlight, the incredible profusion and grandeur of the mountains.
"I don't see how you guys could have forgotten to bring the food," Gilbert said. He returned to this subject frequently. He did not seem to be particularly concerned or irritated about it; he merely wondered, with a naturalist's curiosity, how it was possible to have forgotten something so essential to the survival of the species. At other times he approached the problem from a negative point of view, wondering what else one could be doing that was more important than providing food.