By mid-afternoon, a heavy, misting fog lays across the river, killing the faint breeze that had been threatening. The long views down the water and across the floodplain suddenly vanish in a thickening, darkening morass of wet, heavy air. The late afternoon sun loses it hold as this place descends into some netherworld lost between day and night.
The tide goes about its quiet ebbing, running along the bank where years of erosion has left a maze of fallen trees, gentle eddies and quiet backwaters. A place where a fish, fresh in from the sea, might seek refuge from the sea lions that prowl the water here. Some of them have hauled out on a nearby gravel bar, now faded to only grunts and groans punctuating the dark air. A splash comes from down along the bank, catching the corner of my eye in what looks to be an enormous, dark salmon. I float quietly down, hoping that might indicate the presence of more brighter fish to offer a fly to. Staring down the current, I see the fish surface again, a sturgeon maybe four feet long comes partially out of the water and lays over on its side in a slow, walloping splash.
This was an afternoon where the waves of bright fish streaming up river on the outgoing tide failed to show. Maybe the high tide pushed them farther upriver, away from the predator gauntlet here. The wet air pushes in closer and rustlings can be heard back in the trees. Far off in the thickets of cottonwoods, willows and fog to be seen, faint wailings can be heard. Zombies prowl these woods on the days before the full moon – searching for something, maybe a way out – a way off that wretched tangled island. Goosebumps. The Cockrobbin zombies aren’t supposed to swim, but I pull a couple of quiet oar strokes to get the boat out from the bank a little further. Back in the woods, a tree comes crashing down despite the utter lack of wind.
I don’t carry a watch, but by all reckoning the sun should be well up, but this place continues to slide into darkness. Debris caught floating in the tide slides by and farther up I think I can make out the faint outline of a hand bobbing up and down in the soft currents. I pull the oars to move down and out of its path. Moving down is easy in the tide, and I feel the urge to move closer to the launch spot, still over a mile downstream.
Along the way I begin to make out the faint image of a small boat ahead. I can see a figure sitting upright but unmoving, yet the boat glides silently across the water by no apparent means. I stop, now caught between the approaching hand and the unknown boat that moves across the water to the far bank. Long ago, I heard tales of the lost boatman out here – some old fellow who got lost in the fog several decades ago, now only seen on the foggiest of evenings or early mornings shuttling back and forth, looking for a way home. Of course, I dismissed them as old stories told for fun by the locals. Just as soon as it appears, the boat slips into the fallen trees along the bank, disappearing into the dark corners that now line the banks. I move on down, determined to get back to the truck. The fishing hadn’t been promising from the beginning, really. Now I just needed to get back down river. The sound of a plane, or far off car horn would be comforting now, but not even the sea lions can be heard anymore. This place has come to an immense, screaming standstill.
I row steadily and quietly, picking a course that will keep me mid-stream and heading for the launch. The wails from the woods fade away as the bridge approaches into a fuzzy view. At the bridge, a break in the fog can be seen off to the west where the sun begins to pour underneath in a spectacular coloring of water, sky and light. It will be a nice evening here, but I think it is time to leave this place to rest in peace for the winter.