Sunday on The River: A Fishtown Poem
Paddles up. Uhh! Forward. Portside paddles never quite in synch. Rest.
The silence of the Skagit River current carries minds and bodies gently forward. I lean to look at underwater plant growth, silt-covered branches barely visible beneath the surface at low tide, suspended like uncle John Vincent’s body in the arms of the Skagit.
Sixteen poets or poetic pullers in The Salish Dancer, a 36 foot black canoe with red interior and wolf-like decorative bow like a Coastal Salish canoe; sixteen in the grey Voyageur canoe. Destination: Fishtown’s old shacks and landings on the Skagit River, that decades ago held the musings and creative arts of LaConner’s colony of hippies.
Rain falling in vertical torrents, trickling down mounds of glistening
blue, red and yellow slickers wielding wood paddles.
fiercely penetrating the cold steel surface of The River.
Rain bouncing skyward like sparkling diamonds, like a school of
searun trout breaking the surface of their native river to feed
Swinomish gillnetters look up to ponder what the heck are all these white guys doing paddling down the Skagit in pouring rain. Bald eagle soars and circles; quizzically eyeing the unusual sight of canoes full of colorful raingear rafted together under nascent dark clouds. Is eagle, too, listening to poetry on the river?
Where exactly is Fishtown now, except for a state of mind?
The River branches into Steamboat Slough; we paddle a sharp right into Sullivan Slough, past Smuggler’s Cove before heading toward the fish hole entry in the jetty to reach Swinomish Slough. We silently paddle forward, and it is raining.
If not for the rain, would 32 pullers slip into Robert Sund’s old net shack on Shit Creek, or more kindly Disappearing Creek, to be offered steaming hot cups of tea by the caretaker artist. Mindful of Sund’s presence, I listen as his poetic words meet up again with the old weathered wood walls.
The warmth of the wood stove crackling with freshly split dry alder dims the ravages and dampness of paddling in torrents of rain. My imagination gives way to the thought of 32 people within a ten by twelve shack nestled among the reeds, resting on decaying wood piers, enough so to think it might be swaying just a little.
If Sund’s shack should succumb, legions of Robert Sund’s followers and friends would never forgive or forget the extravagance of a few on a rainy day whose elation for just being there will forever remain.
Poem and photo by Sunnie Empie
21 May 2012
On The River with North Cascades Institute
Skagit River Poetry Festival 2012