Montana Wolf

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Stikine:Tahltan for 'Great River'

Journey North Writins: 6/27/10

The night has lost its soul; given way to the northern track of the sun in the land of constant light. I wear a blindfold at night to seal in sleep.

The lakes string along the road like glassy pearls, spattered with loons and Barrows goldeneye...those who glide with babes in tow...ducklings that zip and answer mom's command. Only the loons seem to parent in pairs, their haunting calls permeating the old cells of my brain.

British Colombia. I am far enough north that Alaska is to the west. In fact, Juneau is DUE west. Yesterday I detoured off the Cassiar Highway down a seventy mile stretch of gravel road with 20% winding grades into a place called Telegraph Creek, a ghost town from Klondike gold rush days. The road followed the wide and rapid Stikine River along the 'grand canyon of BC.' It rose along a narrow volcanic promontory with 400-foot drops on both sides and descended into an ancient Indian fishing village where I tentatively walked and snapped pictures of petite, colorful houses adorned with moose antlers. Sheds of jack pine logs dotted the lush lands situated between river and cliffs. Similar to New Mexico's latillas only a bit larger, the vertical slats were a couple of inches apart.

I had drifted further into the village, completing my photo shoot when an Indian man approached. Busted, I thought, worried that I was trespassing on the lands that felt eerily deserted. But he smiled as he neared and asked if I had noticed the eagle cliff. I smiled back and told him I'd seen two bald eagles flying and calling to one another as they chased off a golden eagle invader. He waved me to follow and pointed to a gigantic rock face that lined the confluence of the Stikine and Talhtan rivers. Sure enough, the cliff face was wind-etched in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings over 200-yards wide. Perched directly over the etching at the edge of the cliff was one of those glorious balds, perusing her domain. My new friend said that their nest was up there.

Below the eagle face was where the Tahltan tribe would gather in another couple of weeks when the salmon arrive and complete their life cycle circle from this river, to several years in the ocean and back again to spawn and die. He said he was already catching a few Chinooks (Kings) and Reds (Sockeye). He said his name was Danny. He reckoned that he was glad to have some company. His face was as etched as that rock. Then Danny opened the door on one of those pine houses and rows of hanging salmon drying and smoking. The light burst through the slats, creating a tangerine colored collage. I was privy to a sacred salmon sanctum as he climbed into the loft, reached into a bag and handed down some dried, smoked salmon that tasted like food of the gods.

I told Danny that I was continuing into Telegraph Creek and asked if he needed anything. No, said the man with missing front teeth. He had all he needed in this simple place where rivers converged. On my way back through I left a signed copy of my book against his turquoise blue door, crossed the river and snaked my way up the promontory under the eagle's eyes.

(Check back for pictures...hope to get functional on the road on my own computer soon!)


  1. I like Danny. It's the Dannys that make traveling so wonderful, que no? So glad you got to meet him. I'm sure he'll treasure your book!

  2. Welcome back, bard of the blog!

  3. "ducklings that zip and answer mom's command"...nice picture, christina. i'm just sitting here, trying to imagine how it must feel to be UP THERE. glancing at my wall and seeing my calendar - - there's a picture for july, just having flipped it over from june, with a man in a canoe fishing a river down between such tall trees banked there. after reading your blog here (alaska), i was thinking maybe this was somehow the way it looked up there..the way along your travels. i got up and looked at the small print under the pic on the calendar: "...flyfishing at Loonsong Mountain Lake Chalet, near Homer, Alaska" it read.

  4. You travel companions. Do you know how much it means to me? I hope you do. As for Danny...a true gift. I gave pause for a moment to the thought that he might not read. very likely. Then of course it didn't matter. It was the gesture; the sharing of energy and heart.

  5. Lovely encounter indeed, but just to clarify...the beautiful basalt rock formation is looked upon by the Tahltan as Sesk'iye cho kime, or home of the crow! The trickster is regarded as the creator of light who helped bring humans into the world, hence this rock represents the birthplace of the Tahltan. It truly is a magnificent and powerful place.