We float down the Snoqualmie in Mike’s green canoe as a great blue heron lifts its graceful mass from a black cottonwood and arcs across the gray October sky. We have come to fish the sea-run Cutts, but are mesmerized by the Chinooks fighting their way upriver to spawn. Bodies of the great fish litter the rocks on shore and float past us, silvering the surface.
We talk and cast our lines into the evening. As the sky darkens, I pull the boat up from the bank and watch Mike work his way through the brush. I pack the gear until he comes back with the pickup and we load the boat on top. Then we strip our waders and go into town to meet Lori. She takes our picture. In it, I am standing by the truck and Mike has his arm around my shoulder. His wide-brimmed hat shades his eyes and we are both smiling.
They live in a pink single-wide near the state forest. It’s a ten-minute drive from town up Cherry Hill. That night we sit on rusted patio furniture in the yard watching the Northern Lights. He is my father’s brother, and as we talk, he tells me who I am and where I come from. He laughs at my jokes and tells his own.
There is a studio out back where I sleep when I visit. It has electricity but no running water, and it is filled with artifacts of magic, art, spirit, and death. I hold a ceramic skull in my hands and peer into its eye sockets. The wind is whispering through the trees. When I walk behind the studio to pee, I feel the eyes of the animals in the forest watching me.
There is a small mirror inside by the door. I turn and look at myself, watching my own eyes, listening to the wind blow, and fearing those creatures in the forest who know exactly where I am.