Into the Fraser

This work of fiction is by author Amy Eileen Hiscock, a New West writer. We are proud to share it on our website. 

I want to look at the morning sky and then feel the Pacific wind and tell you—prognosticate—how the river looks.

Is that even possible?

There must be other things to learn first: how the moon pulls and sways; snow packs, snow melts; King Tides; rainfall near and far. This list is surely not exhaustive.

I am uselessly mystified.

Today, the river has thousands of crests falling in every direction. Eddies disrupt a flow I can’t discern; if I didn’t know where the Fraser met the Pacific I swear I couldn’t tell you the river’s direction.

The mist-rain might originate within the river and not the sky. It’s the same with the grey that creeps and obscures the mountains to the north. It’s like the underworld found a sub-river vent from which to escape and now innumerable hungry ghosts stampede on the water’s surface, silently trampling one another.

However, the Fraser isn’t always morbid.

Just yesterday, the river was a carver’s work in progress. A wooden surface delicately scalloped in countless places, shifting and becoming something intelligible, purposeful. The sun crept through the clouds like a gap through window blinds. Light to see by.

Perhaps I was beginning to understand.

Then I wake this morning and can’t make sense of the river anymore.

You can read about the Doppler Effect and feel you have a decent understanding of sound. You can imagine sound waves as they squiggle out of peoples’ mouths—smaller then bigger, louder then quieter.

With the river, it’s different. There’s no single rule, drawn as a sinuous line on a page. There are: currents; undercurrents; eddies; tides; floods; waves; effluents; velocities; turbulence; densities. This list, as well, is surely not exhaustive.

At work, the silence is broken when my coworker complains about the electronic forms we fill. “The listy-thingy,” she says. Drop-down menu, I scream inside my head. “The… you know,” she says, moving her pinched fingers back and forth. Toggle, I yell again. She is surprised by every error message. Fill out the goddamn required fields, I pretend to shout. I see her staring at the computer with the same stupefied wonder I get peering into the depths of The Mighty Fraser. Her face contorts and reddens.

“I never learned this stuff when I was young, you know,” she says. The contrition in her voice startles me.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t learn anything important when I was growing up either.” She squints her eyes and tilts her head, then looks back to her computer. Conversation over.

Stealthily, I pull up a search engine on my own computer. How to understand a river.

Enter. The results are a pell-mell of scientific formulas, mystic travel pieces, safety warnings and fishing advice. There’s nothing that quite satisfies what I’m looking for. I get back to work.

On the bus home, a cell phone dings the stock iPhone SMS notification. Ten people eagerly grab their phones; ninety percent disappointment ensues. Some guy plays his music before his earbuds are plugged in; he blushes as furiously as he fumbles to silence the hip-hop beat. Angry stares abound. Always make sure your earbuds are plugged in, everyone thinks. Rude loser. When my annoyance subsides, a lonely ache fills my chest.

I get off two stops early; I want to walk along the river.

The city streets slope steeply to the water, making my feet smack hard and loud on the tarmac—I can see now how gravity pushes me like a tiny tributary to where I belong. I zigzag through the alleys, heading into the cool wind off the water.

No one sees as I slip over the chain-link fence that borders the wharf. I scramble through some bushes and sit on the bank. Stare. The river changed again; the mist is gone. With the setting sun, the water’s surface is antique stained glass. Warbled and red, delicate.

I see silhouetted men fishing the river along the Quay. They have plastic buckets to hold their catch. I know, therefore, there is life inside the Fraser. There’s an entire ecosystem under there. I know this—that there is a system—because the salmon cannot be the only species. You can’t survive as a species in isolation. You need something else, which also needs something else, and so on. All the flora and fauna species prop each other up into a house of cards. Still, I can’t imagine life burgeoning under the Fraser. I don’t understand—how can anything survive such a swift current?

I dip my finger into the water and bring it to my mouth. It’s tasteless as tap water. I wonder if I’m going to get sick with Beaver Fever or brain-eating amoeba. Maybe even hepatitis of some sort, if there is human sewage in the river.

There’s a stack of Post-its and a black pen in my pocket. I pull them out. “Water Study”, I scrawl at the top of a sticky. I sketch the water sloshing around a rock near my foot. The result looks like a robin’s egg in a cartoon bird’s nest. I am not Da Vinci. Or was it Medici? Rote facts don’t matter anyhow. I set the sticky and the pen on another rock.

I want to have a feel for something natural. I swear I’m not being retro or ironic or meta. It’s just that I feel baseless. I live at the behest of unnatural forces. There’s this thing inside me that wants me to be closer to the earth. I don’t know what it is, but I tried to listen.

I have tried. I walked down the city street with hundreds of others, holding a cardboard sign. No pipeline, we all agreed. But I think it’s coming anyways. I heard someone whisper to his friend, I know its bad for climate change, but we could really use the jobs. His friend’s eyes widened; she craned her neck to see if anyone overheard. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak to a single person.

I went home and saw my photograph—sign in hand—tweeted by Naomi Klein. My phone beeped and lit up all day. “I saw you on Naomi’s Twitter!! OMG! So amazing.” “You go girl, social justice! Xox” and “Saw you were downtown—loved your sign LOL”. I replied: “Thanks”; “Thanks”; “Thanks”. My phone went quiet.

The recycle bin at my apartment was full, so I guiltily stuffed my cardboard sign into the garbage. I just didn’t want to look at it anymore, and recycling day wasn’t for nearly a week. Its okay, I told myself, I ride the bus and I never use disposable coffee pods. Like a priest, I absolve myself of wrong-doings.

The next day I started looking at—really looking at—the river. It confounds me, still, and I admit I’m becoming desperate. I feel as though it might be possible to tap into some primordial chunk of my DNA; it might be possible to have a revelation from within.

The cold sand and rocks under my ass are the best thing that’s happened all day.

The reddened surface of the Fraser pulls me in like the warm glow of fire. First a toe. Then another. Until it’s foot, ankle, shin, knee.

Immersion Study, I think.

Thighs, hips, navel, breasts. How else will I ever understand?

Neck, chin, nose, forehead.

This is it. I will get carried away with my thoughts until I reach the depth of understanding I’m looking for.