It is about 3.00 in the afternoon when we leave town on a beautiful, warm day. The sky is blue and clear. The wheat has been harvested, and the hills, which are now ochre-colored, look like closely shorn heads. We drive off the plateau and down the valley of the Clearwater River, which we follow upstream bend after bend on Highway 12. In Kamiah, Idaho, we stop for tea and discover that the dog has vomited in the back of the truck. The dog, Astra, always vomits when I drive, which tends to be on long trips, often on curving roads into the mountains.
Above Kooskia, Idaho, traveling now upstream along the
middle fork of the Clearwater River, we pass through the ecotone between steppe
and forest. The steppe
vegetation of the dry slopes consists most prominently of grasses and
shrubs. The grasses have
dried. Leaves of the shrubs are
yellowing. Beyond the ecotone, the
forest consists of conifers. These
are mostly ponderosa pine at the lower end. As we drive up the river, the houses become fewer, and the
forest gets closer to the margin of the road.
At the mouth of the Selway, which is broad and has shoals
with clumps of willows, we turn south to drive up this river. There are a few houses along the lower
part of the Selway, but these soon end and so does the pavement. The remaining road in this season is
badly potholed. It slows one to
the pace of gazing at flowers on the cliff to the left and the river on the
The river runs in bends between the hills. It runs around white stones and
squeezes between gray boulders.
The river is broad and dark but squiggled with blue lines. It slides flat around point bars to
chatter and sputter spumes of white over rapids where creeks open.
The sun is still above the hills but the light is late when
we arrive at the end of the road.
Our friend Ray is already at the campsite—at least his truck with a
canoe on top and bicycle on the back is parked at the campsite where a small
fire burns. We turn to look
around, and Ray emerges from the woods carrying wood in both hands. I have brought firewood from home I
tell him, and it will be enough for the night. We get our chairs from the truck to sit beside the fire. The evening darkens and cools. We have tea. Our friends Debbie and Peter arrive, and we all sit around
the fire talking about novels and poems.
The Selway slides behind us.
We hear it wash and clatter.
We talk about other days and nights on this river.
Ray looks up to the sky, where he points out the constellation Cygnus—a swan in the sky’s river of stars. As we watch, a bright satellite moves across Cygnus. The movement of artificial satellites is too much to consider. We leave the fire, the night, and the satellites for our sleeping bags.