Back Issue Content: 2001

You're a cab driver in New York City in 1971, trying to make a right hand turn at a busy Manhattan intersection but there's some cocky bike messenger in your way and he won't move. So you nudge him. Not hard, just enough to let him know that you're in a cab and he's on a bike and if he doesn't move and soon you might run his ass over. But the bike messenger does a strange thing. He doesn't move out of your way. He gets off his bike, walks to the front of your cab, and swiftly kicks your headlight in. Then he invites you to step outside and discuss the matter further. You, as the cab driver, make a wise choice and roll up the window instead. Because you've just met John Gierach on a bad day and getting out of your car would only make it worse.

The sound builds slowly in early afternoon, decibel levels rising and fading in a never-ending sequence you recognize as cicadas. They emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on species. It's very predictable and natural, like the moon and tides, but hatches some years are more epic than others and when the cycles overlap, the trees can be crawling with them. Birds, small mammals, snakes, and fish all benefit from the abundant prey. I had a female tabby that thought of them as a delicacy.

The fish were in, Savone said, had been since March. So we found them that April morning, a 45-minute upstream hike from the high tide mark. Steelhead. A threesome here, half dozen there, big, slab-sided, and salmon-sized, all holding in those tannic Alaskan riffles. We cast bright streamers at them well into the afternoon, flexing our forearm against their heavy, driving bodies. It felt good to be free from winter's stifling grip; every cast seemed a catharsis, each fish an epiphany.

Springtime in Alaska comes first to the panhandle. Even as my home waters up north remain frozen, the Pacific's salt-cod breath slips mildly through these coastal forests of Douglas fir and red cedar, a gentle promise of the bright season, the days of midnight sun to come. Streamside salmonberries bloom pink and sweet, orbited by hummingbirds; freshets swell with snowmelt from the timbered mountains above and the time of wading rivers and stalking big ocean-fresh trout begins.