Shuttleworth Creek winds for many miles up through the antelope brush and bunchgrass, into the pine forest, and deep into the mountains, covered in firs. With a bed of complex gravels and water-rounded stones, it is a beautiful salmon stream, without salmon.
It is most beautiful at first frost, on one of those rare years when there is any water in it at all.
It draws the eye and shows the right relationship between salmon egg, stone and water.
It also shows what it once was and could be again. The mind drawn by beauty can also be the mind that drags its body enthusiastically along to bring the beavers back, trapped out in, what, 1820? 1830?
Someone has to regulate the flow here. I mean, for the salmon. All this talk of global warming, so important, is a distraction, a horror show, the old story of the hostile wilderness breaking in on the weak, helpless humans, the stories that fuelled 500 years of anti-indigenous genocide and, conversely, fuels the horrific and ongoing story of indigenous women disappearing in violence. I don’t make light of these serious issues, but we are not helpless.
The loss of the beavers was a catastrophe of the first order and has resulted in as much climate change, locally, as atmospheric carbon is causing globally, if not, with all due respect, more.
And it’s so beautiful. And terrible. The human eye is drawn to beauty and balance, and, like the beaver, attempts to extend it. Yes, humans also are excellent at destruction, as are beavers.
But the salmon know the difference. Look at the drop in water levels below, over just a couple days.
You can’t live as an egg under the gravel through the long winter like that. It makes me wonder what else can be done, in this landscape and in landscapes across North America, to add resilience and life to the land, so that rising temperatures will not be catastrophic. My hunch is that they will only be catastrophic because they are striking lands that are already pushed to an absolute limit of resilience.
To the limit, but not quite tipped over the limit. Can you see the water trickling through the hole in the ice to the right below?
Can you see the patterns of the slow current spilling over frozen ice through the long night below?
And the current rippling in the sun through the ice below?
And the inspiration for how much we can still do below?
The problem is carbon, but it’s not carbon alone. Drought is no stranger here. If the beavers were able to transform a rattlesnake habitat into a fish habitat, so can we. If we don’t, it has nothing to do with carbon, which makes me think that carbon is also a distraction. The issue behind carbon is the desire to sacrifice the land and water to extract, transport and burn carbon, for goals which further reduce the land and water by transforming them into social artifacts and power.
Well, humans are predatory, what can I say. Still, we are also drawn to beauty and balance.
And love. We do as much of what we do for love as we do for hunger, fear and power.
We might just start by bringing our children to the water. I can’t remember much of what happened in my industrial schooling, but those moments in the creeks that changed my life, I can remember: the dipper that flew into the water in a shaft of sunlight, passed under it for a metre and then flew out again, spraying sunlight like a star; the year the algae was as red as blood and filled the entire creek; the winter I found a school of minnows frozen in the ice and waited for them to swim away in the spring (except for the one I stupidly chipped out and broke, they did); the way the water drew down the willows in the spring, then released them, then drew them down, then released them, and on and on; the way the trout preferred to swim in the grass of flooded hayfields instead of in the current tearing through their summer pools. That was my school. I was drawn by beauty and wonder. It’s not a marker for sublimity or romance or prettiness or emotional satisfaction. If we ignore it, we are walking on thin ice.
We don’t even have to make anything up. It’s not technology that is going to fix this. Our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren are.
And water is. In some place between energy and stasis.
That is as complex and binding as water is.
That our industrial training calls beauty. Hunh. How can it be beauty without being, in and of itself, the full depth of human experience? How can it be balance if the image below is not understood in its own terms and not in the language of gas pressures and hydrological engineering?
How can it be beauty without salmon?
That is just the language of genocide.