We are camped on a point bar that has no point; instead, it curves broadly along the margin of the Selway River in the arch of a bow. At the down-river end of the point bar, there is a large boulder and pools of water that have been caught in dips of sand. Up-river, the end of the point bar is edged by the mouth of Renshaw Creek, where a willow thicket along the creek gives way gradually to a cobble field in which river water spreads and curls.
In some past
time Renshaw Creek spat boulders from its mouth, resulting in a rapid on the
Selway River. I wonder at the
timing of the rapid’s origin. Did
those boulders tumble from the shoulders of Fog Mountain, where Renshaw Creek
rises in two branches, in one tumultuous event—a canyon cutting, boulder
bouncing flood—perhaps at the beginning of the creek itself—or have they
arrived more slowly over many floods and longer time? Gentle Renshaw Creek offers in this season little more than
clear and cold water at its shallow mouth, but during the spring snow melt its rush
will be furious, white and splattering, with thick streams and muddy folds that
slap at the bank edges with great erosive force. Do those spring
melts bring regular runs of boulders?
I can see
less than half a mile of the Selway’s channel when I look downriver. Beyond the end of our point bar, the
river curves to the north, then south, and north again before it seems to end
in shadows of forest. A band of
shiny water extends from the downriver end of the point bar into a dark, flat
pool. The surface of the pool
offers reflections of the forest.
On the far side of the river, I can see reflections of the individual
conifers, which are yellowish green in the warm, evening light, but on the near
side the reflection is simply the dark, shadowy face of the forest. Beyond the near flat pool, where the
river turns south, the surface of the water reflects a bright silvery white
As I walked
upriver earlier in the day, I watched the beadlike strings of reflections that
rode the edges of ripples, where the surface of the river had been disrupted. I watched the passages of those ripples. Some ran like strings for yards along the
channel and others curved toward the shore in concentrically lit arcs.
From the point bar at Renshaw Creek, I watch light on the water that is pushed toward shore. This shore water scrunches into waves as it rides laterally from the cobble channel bottom up the sandy shallows at the point bar’s edge. The smooth arcs of these waves fragment into diamonds and runs of light ridges that wiggle to shore. In the early evening, the diamonds anastomose and shoot toward shore sinuous lines of yellow light.
In the early morning, when the light is strong but the sun remains beyond hills to the east, I return to the mouth of Renshaw Creek to filter water. Where water from the creek meets the river, strong stream bands curve from the edge of the current toward the point bar. As these bands approach the shallows they break into arcs and then further fragment into amoeboid forms. The faces of the watery amoebae flip forth and back, north and south, flashing blue and then black as they reflect sky and shadowy forest.
I return from the river to the campfire. My companions have boiled a pot of Selway water and offer me a cup for tea. The river water, which looks so often the color of tea, is clear as it pours from an old, charcoal-covered coffee pot—but when it enters my cup, infusing the tea, it returns to the color of the river, a rich, dark brown. I drink the river, its color and all.