The River Why
Updated: Apr 8
In our effort to celebrate and review the best fly fishing writing, we present this excerpt from The River Why, by James David Duncan. For my money, this passage is the best loving description of a river.
“South of the Columbia and north of California, scores of wild green rivers come tumbling down out of the evergreen, ever-wet forests of the Coast Range. These rivers are short― twenty to sixty miles, most of them― but they carry a lot of water. They like to run fast through the woods, roaring and raising hell during rainstorms and run offs, knocking down streamside cedars and alders now and again to show they know who it is dumping trashy leaves and branches in them all the time. But when they get within a few miles of the ocean, they aren’t so brash. The get cautious down there, start sidling back and forth digging letters in their valleys ― C’s, S’s, U’s, L’s, and others from their secret alphabet― and they quit roaring and start mumbling to themselves, making odd sounds like jittery orators clearing their throats before addressing a mighty audience. Or sometimes they say nothing at all but just slip along in sullen silence, as though they thought that if they snuck up on the Pacific softly enough it might not notice them, might not swallow them whole the way it usually does. But when they get to the estuaries they realize they’ve been kidding themselves: the Ocean is always hungry― and no Columbia, No Mississippi , no Orinoco or Ganges can curb its appetite….So they panic: when they taste the first salt tides rising up to greet them they turn back toward their kingdoms in the hills. They don’t get far. When the overmastering tides return to the ocean, these once-brash rivers trail along behind like sad little dogs on leashes― past the marshes with their mallards, the mud flats with their clams, the shallow bays with their herons, over the sandbars with their screaming gulls and riptides, away into the oblivion of the sea”