At half past six I wake once more. I am still jet lagged, yet to catch up with myself, and cannot fathom all this light. The river has been muttering all night. I step from the tent, and a pair of harlequin ducks, their faces painted, burst from the shore and fly, complaining, off down the meanders of the river. There is a skin of frost on all the gear. I make a small fire and brew some coffee in the little blackened kettle that has been everywhere with me. Mist hangs in the branches of the spruce on the far bank, and the air is chill and damp. I wear a coat and hat and gloves, but it is a chill that goes right through them. I put a pot of porridge on the embers, and watch as it bubbles.
The sand holds the stories of the night. The hoof prints of a moose and calf, like two series of quotation marks, emerging from the water and making off into the willows. The little nervous arrows of the sandpiper, pointing every which way, all along the shore. These female sandpipers are polyandrous: each male that mates with she will leave to incubate her eggs whilst she goes off searching for another. Hector tells me this as we eat. Hector loves birds; he speaks of them as though they were his own prodigious children. Later, as I lie in the tent one night, listening to the whistle of some bird, he will suddenly, urgently, whisper:
‘Hear that? The semi-palmated plover. It is a sound that thrills me to my very marrow.’
I stand up to do the dishes. There is an eddy here, on the outside bend, where the river begins in earnest. The water is slack and slowly turning, contrary to the flow, a deep pool slowly carved. I am scrubbing porridge from out the pot when I see the dart of little fish emerging from the shadows, pecking at the oats. And I gasp because it was as easy as that to find them. They are exactly where they were supposed to be. These are king salmon, a few months old, the first I have ever seen. I watch them as they feed on our breakfast.
At this stage, in the complicated lexicon of a fish that has spawned its own glossary, they are called parr. It is the point where the parr marks appear, the oblong splotches that run the length of them like inky fingerprints and, like fingerprints, distinguish one species from another. The marks are obscured as they age, but for now they are camouflage against the gulls and terns and pike and mergansers and otters and sheefish and loons and everything else that hunts them. They hold their position against the current, their narrow bodies pulsing, their tiny fins making constant, incremental adjustment, feeling out the river’s flow. Each is perhaps one inch long. One shoots for a bug caught on the surface, shakes it, and slips back inside the group.
This is an excerpt from the 2018 shortlisted book by Adam Weymouth. Read more