Chatter

Glory Hole, Situk River, Yakutat Alaska

It was light at 4am because we were so far north and I laid on the couch where I woke and watched the men get ready to go fishing. For a few minutes I pretended I was doing serious independent travel and imagined describing the scene in my dispatches home: “These men are obsessed with coffee. They drink it every morning, at least two cups, and then bring a thermos with them on the boat. When they run out of coffee on the boat everyone crashes and takes turns napping on the narrow benches. They play cards late into the night and laugh constantly and have dedicated their lives to fish.”

I tried to pretend that they spoke some exotic, fucked up language like Portuguese, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but my imagination was burdened by my relationship with my dad, by my friendship with Michael & his dad Mark, by old memories of my dad’s friend Fred. The four of them shuffled around the room reaching for coffee cups as they pulled on their jackets and talked about fish. I could understand every word.

We walked up the bank of the Situk river occasionally hollering, “No bears!” so that we wouldn’t surprise a grizzly who might be snacking around the corner. We cut down to a sand bar on the river. Michael and Mark headed into the river, up to their waists, watching sockeye weave between branches and splash under trees. They cast, let the lure bounce on the bottom with the current and slowly reeled it in, hopefully right across the nose of a fish.

From the bank we heard eagle chatter echo down through the woods and onto the river and we pointed quietly, but excitedly, when others glided overhead. A pair of chatty eagles crossed the river upstream from us then drifted downstream until they landed on an evergreen branch above us, still chattering. I told my dad to grab the video camera but as soon as I opened my mouth they shut up, alarmed by my voice. I felt foolish for not having established a whistle-based language before the trip to the river, but I’ll never make that mistake again.

The eagles sat on their branch watching us for half an hour, completely silent. Just watching. No worry about the future, no regret about the past. Just watching. I wish I could focus as well. The previous night I meditated on the couch and while trying to clear my mind – pieces of jokes or advice or opinions echoed in my head. Nonsensical phrases bounced around in my dad’s voice. I could understand every word. Looking up at the eagles I wondered whether chatter bounced in their minds, whether those birds – so tuned to the rhythm of the present – were enlightened. When one meditates, is he trying to be more like an eagle or less like one?

I tried to sense the rhythm of the place, again tuning out voices. The water sounded like it was just tapping the pebbles on the shore, it was a constant clicking at our feet. Other eagles chattered in the forest and there were many birds talking regularly. Every few seconds a sockeye would splash around. Deep in the glowing green woods, branches cracked.

Originally published at The Wanderlust Review.

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1 Comment

Filed under Alaska, Stories, Travel, USA

One response to “Chatter

  1. JoAnne

    Mike,
    I think this is one of your best….I have read it several times and I find something new each time…we need to get you published!

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