Fish Traps

Geology is a kind of detective work, a study of the forces that have shaped the earth. It looks for evidence of past actions in rock that now lies motionless. The grand sweep of geologic time contains many epic dramas, but to my taste they’re just a little too cold and impersonal.

My interest in geologic history might best be described as an anthropology of stone. I’m intrigued by the interface between humankind and it’s rocky kin. I want to know about the parts played by stones in the human drama; both real and imagined.

The following illustrated story is one of my historical fiction/fantasies. I will be posting others, along with oil paintings by Bill Long, Moss Moon Studio for the duration of the mud season.

Fish Traps

The girl’s dark eyes scan the ground at her feet. Slowly, she walks the dry strand along the river’s edge, seeking skip rocks. A birch-bark basket tied to her rabbit-skin waistband grows heavy with smooth stones. Only the flattest, roundest stones will do, for they must swoop like a swallow when she jillicks them across the water’s surface.

Upstream at the fish traps the river current swirls into the shallows, eddies briefly, and returns to the main channel in an endless revolution. The shallow pool at the river's center is calm, the quiet eye of an aquatic storm. There, the girl’s mother stands spread-legged, straddling a low fence made of stones. She gathers up a clutch of cobbles from the river bottom and sets them along the top. The convoluted wall threads its way through the water, stitching together a patchwork of weirs and pens.

After the red leaves have fallen and floated downstream, the red fish swim upstream to spawn. Each year, at this place, the fish are confounded by the maze of stones and captured by the people. The women of the people, having been taught by their mothers, teach their daughters how to rouse the spirits, and restore the workings, of the traps. The curved lines, where they meet, part, and cross each other, have significance beyond their capacity to ensnare fish. How the world has become itself is described by the stony network. The traps are a map, spread out on the water and read aloud, to help guide the people back from the beginning of the world, name-by-name, story-by-story, all the way to this day. Along the way, old friends, arch rivals, fantastic creatures and cataclysmic events are recalled. Every tale is raised from its watery resting place and absorbed, in the telling, by another generation of daughters.

The woman calls for the girl to come, and wades to shore. Her deer-hide dress drips at the fringes. She gestures toward the traps. The girl picks a stone from her basket and waits. The woman softly speaks a name. The girl scans the patterns of stones and settles her eye on a catchment place. With measured aim she whips one of the disks sidearm. It springs from her finger tips and skips across the water, a chain of splashes in its wake. The stone dives under the surface and disappears.

In a distant sea, procreant urges stir. Salmon begin their journey back to their beings.  Against the rippling current, in rhythmic pulse, they fan the waters. Sun beams flashing from glistening fins.