My first trip back, I ride the train down from King Station in Seattle, down the Puget Sound into Tacoma. This place, all of it, from Sekiu to Sacramento is my adopted home.
I see the bare blueberry bushes in the fields, the tiny plots of wine grapes, trees I can name. I lived in the East the majority of my life and couldn’t name hardly a single damn tree or bird, or tell you what they ate, or what they did in the winter.
Here, I know the trees and animals.
I even like knowing the stuff that shouldn’t be here, spotting invasive weeds like Scotch Broom, Himalayan Blackberries, Butterfly bush, Japanese Knotweed. The undergrowth is springing up now. Still February. One of our old neighbors said the entirety of our front yard in our little house in Eugene had bloomed in micro-crocuses, a purple and yellow combination so delicate and beautiful, you would think they were made of porcelain.
There are bridges, rusting over the rivers that I have never fished, but I feel the nostalgia, the connection to every dripping thing, each strand of moss, even the goddamn trash. I miss the people who live under these bridges. I miss a climate that would let them survive. I feel the gray layer of clouds like a warm comforting hand.
As we pass over the Sound, I realize that what I really miss is the Pacific Ocean. Seals and gulls and clear blue seawater, marshy mudflats unfolding to the horizon. And there’s nothing like it in the Ohio steelhead lifecycle, no bringing the marine nutrients into the ancient wooded valleys.
The first morning in Oregon, Ethan, Kyle, Rob and I fish a midcoastal steelhead river. Rob fishes the entirety of the day with a gummy bear stuck on a jighead and catches two fish. I catch two on an egg pattern under a thingamabobber. Ethan and Kyle row, and cheer us on. The fish are big and the river is gorgeous. There are two guys in front of us, but plenty of fish to go around.
The next day we fished the lower McKenzie. The lower river changes so much year to year. “It’s an alluvial system. All of your favorite spots will eventually disappear and new ones will take their place,” Ethan says, and it feels like a metaphor for my life.
Newly formed fishy spots can take up to a year to develop insect population that will hold fish. Patience.
Little black stoneflies crawl all over the rocks at the boat launch.
We fish orange thingamabobbers, side drifting mega-prince nymphs. Rob tells a story of Alaska, an outfitter throwing food scraps into the river at the end of a trip and watching swarms of thirty-inch rainbow trout trying to take down a floating grapefruit.
Stellar’s Jays and belted kingfishers swoop over the river. We catch a bunch of wild trout.
The next day Rob and I head to Tillamook to pick through the upper sections of those rivers on foot. Rob picks up pieces of trash along the riverbank while I fish. I’ve never seen him leave a place without picking it up first.
Rob and I drove out of a sun drenched valley, singing with Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator). Two dozen Roosevelt Elk fed in a clearing of an abandoned house, the Coast Range swallowing it up.
I fly into Akron Airport, snow-blasted flat place with spindly trees and huge houses, and climb into my Honda Civic with the wild salmon bumper stickers, and my Gillian Welch CD picks up where Rob and I had basically left off. One of my favorite songs.
What will sustain us through the winter?
Where did last years lessons go?
Walk me out into the rain and snow
I dream a highway back to you.