Soul of the Skagit
When the pandemic hit, little did I know that this would be the catalyst for spending the next three years photographing and writing about the Skagit River. As a native Floridian, I had never even heard of the Skagit before. St ill, I was eager to challenge my photography and writing to tell a complex story about the nature of the Pacific Northwest, and its relationship with climate change. As it turns out, the Skagit became the perfect place to immerse myself in its rushing waters, sprawling glaciers, and towering forests.
I sought to tell a story that embodied the simultaneous power and fragility of nature, a common theme in the face of climate change. As the most glacially-influenced river in the Continental United States, the Skagit River is the perfect case study for how the natural world is changing in the Pacific Northwest. Not only is the ecology in the watershed shifting, but so too is our relationship with it.
Although the Skagit River watershed encompasses some of the most remote wilderness areas in the country, millions of humans are also incredibly dependent on its resources. The Skagit remains the strongest foothold for Puget Sound Chinook (with over 50% of Puget Sound Chinook coming from the Skagit alone), while simultaneously supplying the greater Seattle area with roughly 20% of its electrical needs from its three dams. Such is the paradox of this river. Yet, this condition hangs delicately in the balance, as the glaciers continue to recede, salmon populations continue to decline, and wildfires threaten the last stands of old growth forest.
I am hardly the person who knows how to solve all of the challenges this river (and many others like it) are facing. After all, I am a Floridian who only learned of the Skagit by pouring over scientific journals while quarantined in my tiny home. But if we listen to the rushing waters of the Skagit, we just might find a perspective that can lead us one step closer towards these solutions. After all, we are not simply beneficiaries of the rivers resources, we are part of the rivers’ resources.
What can we give back to the river that has given so much to us and the Indigenous peoples who have inhabited these land and watersheds since Time Immemorial? How can we reintegrate our modern lives into the precisely-woven natural systems? How can we share with each other, as this river has shared with us?
Christian Murillo is an internationally acclaimed photographer and author based in Bend, Oregon. His works are centered around the themes of climate change and wilderness conservation.