After we rise in the morning, I fix tea water and a breakfast of eggs and sausage for everyone. We clean-up the campsite, and disperse to prepare our packs for a walk up the Selway River. Ray, as he walks down the hill from the campground’s pit toilet, announces, “I read a poem by W. S. Merwin while on the privy.” Debbie laughs. “Ray,” I say, “that sounds like the first lines of a poem.” Soon, Ray shoulders his pack, grabs his pole, and walks to the trailhead. A few minutes later, Debbie and Peter depart. Adrian and I continue to pack and, then, we also shoulder our backpacks to walk up the river. We walk for nearly three hours and go a little more than three miles. Debbie, Peter, and Ray lie on a point bar, where they bask in the hot afternoon sun after a swim in the chilly Selway, when Adrian and I arrive. We chat through the remainder of the afternoon about the poems of William Stafford, Theodore Roethke, and Inger Christensen. Ray says, “Ouzels sound to me like change jangling in your pocket.” Soon, as he sits with his back to the river, we hear the jangling call of a bird as it flies upriver. Ray swiftly tilts his head to catch the call. “Hear that?” he says, “It’s an ouzel.” We always enjoy the ouzels on the Selway. We’ve watched them dive from boulders to water at some campsites. At other sites, we have waited pensively for those dives when the ouzels were contented simply to do knee-bends on riverside stones. I wait, too, for Ray to write a jangling poem about the behaviors of ouzels as he has done for salmon and wolverines. As the afternoon becomes evening, we gather firewood, and Ray starts a fire on the point bar that will be our campsite. We reconnoiter spots around the fire—expecting the wind to go either up river or down—and put our sleeping pads on the sand around the fire where we hope that smoke will not go. In the darkness, Ray reads aloud from the collected poems of Theodore Roethke. He asks the rest of us to each read a stanza of Roethke’s poem “The Rose” and, by the light of our headlamps, we read. Debbie begins: “There are those to whom place is unimportant, / But this place, where sea and fresh water meet, / Is important . . .” This place, the Selway River, is important. By walking this river over the years we have built of steps our history in this place. Point bars have become the places of stories. The river’s flow, its sinuous channel, and its rippled reflections of light have become poems.
When we finish reading Roethke’s “The Rose,” accompanied by the rush of the river and the chirruping of tree frogs, we leave the fire to head to our tents for the night. I think about this line from Roethke’s poem: “It is here that the poet claims to find his true self.” I am not a poet, and I am uncertain about true selves, but many claims reside here for me. I find on the Selway River solace, calm, and beauty as well as good friends, Ray’s stories, and nights of poetry.
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The photograph of the group around the fire was taken by Adrian.