“I take to rivers the strongest.

They give me that incredible sweet feeling I once got from religion.”

-Jim Harrison from his novel, Sun Dog

 Less than a week ago we sold the beloved Yukon Outpost. Nancy and I paused, in full embrace, one last time at the riverbank. We shuddered and joined the river’s tireless concert as we added a soft encore of tears.

Leaving our log home and Yukon friends made the selling tough but leaving the river music was toughest. Its constant background noise was both comforting and provocative. Here I became acutely aware that water and wonder are always on the move.

Overlooking the river on Pulpit Hill, a short ball throw from our Outpost, I received a dose of both moving water and wonder. This bare knob of land that rises abruptly 30 feet above the Watson River is a podium for views near and far. The steep climb accelerated my heartbeat but the view almost stopped it.

Weeks ago, the evening sun gauzed by the smoke of distant wildfires, I sat atop Pulpit Hill, mesmerized by this oldest of partnerships: water and a force that moves it. Here the slope of the river is greater than it is just 200 meters upstream. There the river bends gracefully like a lazy question mark. The water accelerates out of the bend and pushes off the base of Pulpit Hill.

Whether the noisy river hurries for a couple of days to distant Bennett Lake, or evaporates into air currents where it might eventually gather into a thunderhead and shower down on our Minnesota Basecamp, it is in perpetual motion.

The river’s song is borne from gravity’s pull tugging the liquid around and over ancient rocks. Like a youngster freed from school, the water races, leaps and slides over boulders and shallow stony shoals.

Downstream the tip of a slender black spruce arcs far out over the river in a boreal ballet bend. The spruce’s root system is gnawed by the rushing current and is imperceptibly sliding into the water. Like a nervous toe testing a hot bath, the spruce apex bounces delicately in the moving water as if keeping time with the river melody. No longer does this spruce summit host white-winged crossbills to sing their sweet trilling songs. And no longer does the wayward wind strum needle music from this surrendering spruce. Though I can’t hear it, I know the branch of spruce needles comb hissing notes out of the water to add to the symphonic allegro.

To hear the river lullaby through the bedroom window all night long was a gift. But to watch the river at different angles of sunlight was a more complete sensorial offering.

At suppertime, we cranked open the window next to us, as if to invite the musician to our table. We often ate in silence hypnotized by the early evening river now lit in silver reflected sunlit.

From my table setting, I had developed the habit of repeated glances over my right shoulder. I turned often, as if I am expecting company at any moment. I would simply look upriver, past the bend where a bench of green grass is sandwiched between a phalanx of willow and the river. I didn’t want to miss the strolling bear. It seems such a perfect setting but in the years of repeated look-backs, we never saw any bruins ambling there.

Recently a bear left an impressive pile of scat along with fresh diggings for northern sweet vetch on our trail directly below Pulpit Hill, out of sight from our supper window.

With the recent warm, sunny days, I considered boldly wading out into the current, stand firmly with legs outspread, like an upside down tuning fork and directly participate in the chorale. I wondered if the tenor of the river tune might change as I slowly lifted a leg? And if I chose to lessen my tuning fork stance and become like a post, would that add timbre to the harmonies?

I wonder about the accidental arrival of all the river rocks that make up this liquid orchestra. Gravel, born from worn down rocks and rocks rendered from worn down boulders. As the river glides and dances in its youthful headwaters it will seemingly age and become greater in girth and more sluggish in its terminus at Lake Bennett.

Other residents were attracted to the hydro concert. There is a large midstream rock, just upriver, that often hosts an impatient, teetering spotted sandpiper. Some days the rock is a resting place for a red-breasted merganser taking a break from the chore of fishing for small grayling gathered in the boulder’s eddy. I’ve watched an otter pause to groom itself on this popular perch and one day a mink came swimming by it, riding the whole stretch of rapids as if it had to get somewhere in a hurry.

The greatest drama we witnessed just upstream from the boulder perch was a cow moose trying to urge its newly dropped calf across the fast current. The little one teetered on gangly legs in the chilly spring current. It paused; legs spread like a sawhorse, and bleated its discomfort. Mom moose dipped her huge snout down to the little one almost as if she were whispering urges. After ten minutes of stumbling and quivering, the moose decided to return to the birthing side of the river. Perhaps another day of figuring out terrestrial living and wading had to pass before another river crossing attempt.

Days before we pulled away, I filmed this stretch of moving water trying to capture the tireless duet of music and dance. It’s not the same as being here. Not by a long shot.

The river rushes by never, ever to return. We did not hurry away but instead reluctantly turned our back and eased away. It’s time to embrace and love other places but I will never forget this river’s song.


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