By Shauna Sherard
The hopes of finding fish were slim.
“River’s probably still dead,” they said. Heard it more than once.
Driving through the burn, it was easy to believe. It was all the clichés a burned landscape could be. Bleak. Apocalyptic. Lonely.
I hadn’t returned til now. No one I knew had.
Two years ago nearly one hundred thousand acres burned, fire that made the town feel under siege. Smoke, sirens, C130s, helicopters, man camps – we huddled inside closing the windows to what felt like chaos on the distant horizon, fire twinkling on the mountain at night, always impending, never arriving.
Until the ash started flowing down the river. The mud. The sludge.
I can’t say I loved that river. It was more of an occasional like, sometimes hate, but rarely appreciate type of relationship that comes with knowing something is just there. But in this arid patch of Wyoming it was a trout river with public access.
In retrospect, that should have been enough.
Then the fires came and it felt too late and I had, I worried, missed my chance to profess such appreciation. The river appeared dead.
I read an essay recently about death. The writer was suffering from breast cancer and in talking about death, she acknowledged that one must also talk about life. She remarked that in both birth and death, the body does what a body is supposed to do – it transforms back into its natural state and simply acts. It is not told how to act. It is not educated on how to bring a human into the world, or advised on the proper way one leaves the world. It simply does what it is meant to do, and would continue to do so whether told to or not.
So too does a river.
At the edge, the water had the tea-like-clarity that comes with runoff. The opaqueness was gone, as was the feeling of water one could chew, like coffee gone too far in the pot.
Not fishable. But better.
Driving out, I stopped to look over the bridge before heading back to town. And there by the bank – a dart – a swirl of water, and gone. Fleeting, yet present long enough for one to assign proof that while life may lead to death, given the leeway to simply carry on, what seems like death often leads back to life.
It was a rise.