Yukon residents generally keep to themselves but our neighbor to the west, Watson, must never sleep. Always restless and on the go and always, always making noise.

Silence, real silence, is difficult to secure. Even in the wee, dark hours of a new day, any home might sound quiet, but true silence is nearly impossible. Granted, such noiseless moments are more difficult for those who live in urban areas or near a highway or hospital with its string of sirens. And if you live in a rural area you will likely find that long after the lights and bedding have been turned down and all seems quiet, you can focus your fading attention to the simplest of whispers. In some houses it is the quiet hum of the fridge or the seasonal blow of cool air-conditioned or heated furnace air.

Here at the Outpost, only seven miles inside the power grid that allows me to type these words and listen to my own fridge, we are always in the company of a lively neighboring river titled Watson. Some would argue that even a formally named neighbor who constantly drones on in liquid tones would be tiresome.

How is it that the music of moving waters, whether they are hurried downstream by gravity, splashing over rocks, boulders and sheets of gravel settles my inner being, lowers my blood pressure and carries away tensions? Or how can wind-heaved waves cast onto lake and ocean shorelines draw my attention and then peacefully hypnotize me? Even small drops of a steady rain on a roof or tent will inspire me to pause and anchor to rest in my quiet place.

What is the magic hold, the power to stop us, to slow us down from pretended urgencies, that moving water has on us? I wonder if it is a primal calling. A calling us home so to speak. That would put us in the company of the salmon that are called home from the ocean to the very stream from which they were born. Powerfully, they swim, leap up hefty rivers and subject themselves to a gauntlet of nets, claws, teeth and talons as they are determined to drive on towards their home waters.

Does my homage to the moving water align me with the ancient waters from which our evolution as a species might have come from? After all my own blood is more like saltwater than freshwater and it could be that I carry my birth waters within my humble frame.
Or could it be that the fondness for water symphony is not unlike the internal watershed of our own circulatory system? Perhaps our nine months, or in my case seven months, of floating in our mother’s amniotic pool and surrounding circulatory flow has left an indelible emotional bookmark, an affinity towards songs of serenity delivered by moving water.

From spring through fall and even into early winter, no matter what the weather is, Watsons ramblings are the first thing we hear when we step outdoors. We often stroll, coffee in hand, to the small section of dock that is perched over the river. The river’s movement and score of music demand our attention so we often sit in silence and just watch and listen. We are not alone in our attraction to Watsons neighborliness. One day a mink hurried by as it bobbed expertly through the rapids in passing us. More recently, a trio of red-breasted mergansers dawdled, preening themselves on a mid-river boulder that sits at the river bend just upstream from the dock. Was it the river’s restful noise that attracted a mid-May cow moose and her newborn, gangly calf to the river’s edge near the merganser resting rock? And even bears have left clues of their riverside dining in the diggings of succulent roots located just feet from the river.

Spending enough time with Watson has made us keenly aware of the river’s cadence and signature song. So it came as no surprise when we suddenly became aware of a new sound coming from the river. Curious I went down to investigate and discovered that Watson was being retuned.

I am married to a fine musician. Nancy loves jamming with other players and does so weekly. While she adds her lively fiddle to the mix, I sometimes will join them by contributing some simple and tentative percussion. We have found that a cylindrical Scotch container housing a handful of rice makes a good shaker that almost sounds like raspy snare drum. Or beating our five-gallon blue water container adds an amazing variety of percussion tones. While mindlessly beating or shaking, I like to watch the real musicians. The guitarists, usually a pair of them, will often affix a clamp, called a capo on the neck of their guitars, compressing the instrument’s strings to raise the guitar’s tone.

Down at the river deck, I looked upstream towards the merganser’s boulder and discovered that Watson now had its own capo. A long, smooth log had floated downriver during the late spring high water period and had jammed itself up on the boulder. It had now swung on its rocky pivot point and stopped perpendicular to the river’s flow creating an instant small ledge from which new river notes were coming. Like a metronome, the log slowly rose and fell in the surging current, as if it were tapping its thick trunk in time to the music.

I wondered if I were to brave the cold, mountain-born waters and wade into the river and roll some of the large rocks into new positions if I could, in fact, be a composer of sorts. I would argue that such a task would make me a songwriter of liquid lyrics.

The capo log has not gone unnoticed by another neighbor who lives north of the Outpost. The other day, ten-year old Anthony urged me up Pulpit Hill to look down on the river. Excitedly, he pointed out the recently stranded log. I loved the fact that he had found this newsworthy event worthy of neighbor news. Earlier in the day I had noticed that the log had also attracted the attention of a passing spotted sandpiper that paused and bobbed its tail up and down as it inspected the river log. I like to think it stopped to take in the new music, raising and lowering its tail in time to the rivers beat, rather than look for small invertebrate tidbits on the log’s surface.

Our bed is less than forty feet from the river. During the we often open the window above our heads. When my head settles into the pillow, the river never fails to lull me to sleep. In the evening, Watsons flow sounds like a distant applause that rises and falls but never tires.

Good night Watson.



Nancy and I made the trip to Dawson last weekend to watch some of the River Quest Canoe and Kayak Race come into the finish. The total race distance was 460 miles. Due to the rainy, cold weather at the start and then facing a very rough paddle on Lake Lebarge, nearly 1/3 (around 22 teams) of the teams that started the race scratched. The winning team, the Texans, a voyageur canoe with six paddlers won the race again this year. This mens team has won the race three of the last four years. They finished the grueling race in 42 hours and 48 minutes. Eleven seconds behind them was a solo kayaker from Sausalito, California.

I spoke with Rod Price, the Floridian, when he finished at about 7:30 AM. He said that at about 6 AM, that morning, he had drank two cans of Red Bull to try and stay awake. Not long after drinking them, he actually lost his balance during a stroke due to his drowsiness and he tipped over into the cold river. Alone and no one in sight, he had “to do a Michael Phelps” and swim after his drifting canoe, grab it and get he and the boat to shore where he could empty it and change into dry clothes. “It did wake me up though.”

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