In the morning the water on the tin plates had frozen into paper-thin sheets. Locomotive clouds of steam were billowing from the hot spring, pumping and driving ceaselessly from the fog factory.
When we left our camp at the hot springs we drifted into a lagoonlike expanse of slow water, where the Canoe began mirroring ponderosa pines and white mountains which looked like a window display in a travel agency office. On the western side of the river an escarpment rose in a solid wall. A thousand-foot cascade fell over the cliff. Halfway down, the water struck a projection, and thinned into two falls—white, filmy and wavering, in the intense green forest.
Nearer the Columbia the snow mountains closed in on both sides of the river: the forests became darker and the air chill and changeable. Through the last mile below Dawson Creek the rapids were almost continuous. Every river has its own pattern, its own character, slow or fast or turbulent or reedy or wild or noisy, or with some other descriptive term applied to it by generations of fishermen and dwellers on its banks, and the Canoe River was friendly. It had become a big, powerful river, wild and remote, ceaselessly changing, but with a kind of tranquillity, a busy harmlessness, in its hurry. It should have had its share of poets and artists to celebrate it before it was destroyed.
We came out of the Canoe in the rainy twilight on our seventh day and were on the Columbia before we knew it. The current of the bigger river caught the canoe and shot it diagonally halfway across the river. It felt as if someone had grabbed the canoe under the water and thrown it like a javelin. Bil Gilbert said it was the first time in his experience that he felt he could see the current of a river like a hill in the middle of it. We pulled the canoes far up on the bank, shouldered our packs and walked two miles to the prefabricated comforts of Boat Encampment. Freshly cut cedar logs waiting to be hauled away were piled beside a muddy road. There was the sound of a pump, the hum of a gasoline-driven generator, the gleam of an unshaded yellow light bulb at the door of a work shed. Waldrop and Gilbert began singing We Are Marching to Pretoria
. I stumbled along after them. For some reason, perhaps fatigue, I began thinking of Finnegans Wake and trying to remember the lines about the River Liffey: "Can't hear the waters of. The chittering waters of.... I feel as old as yonder elm.... Night now! ...Beside the rivering waters of, the hitherandthithering waters of. Night!"