It's a hazy, lazy day, summer heat tempered by the shade of tall coniferous trees. The river sings to me, as do the birds in the trees. Silence is but a distant memory, as the sounds of nature surround me, yet through it all, the soft roar of the river, and of the falls farther down, ensure a soothing harmony to it all.
I head down to a beach both stony and sand, offering both the fun of leaping from stone to stone out over the water, and the comfort of laying out a towel to soak up the rays. Over the years a few more people have discovered our little paradise, but still, it feels like our home away from home, our little undiscovered country. Memories fill me as I wade into the water of the little wading pool I remember first building with my mother when I was three years old. It was simply a pile of rocks then, keeping one small shoulder of the river from flowing as quickly towards the falls Over the years, others have added to it, creating a true wading pool, waist deep at the deepest, a calm pond set within the rapid river running by. Some mornings you will see a trout or a salmon swimming there, making use of the man-made rest stop for tired swimmers. As children we'd catch minnows and place them here, to watch as they darted between our legs to find less occupied territories.
I sit on the fallen log that has been slowly rotting the past 4 years, and watch the river pass by. with the sun beating down, it sparkles like a thousand diamonds. A blue heron swoops down, and begins it's statuesque, slow progress along the far bank, stepping so lightly it barely disturbs the surface. It's long neck eases forward, then darts, and a flash of silver is seen before it disappears down the large birds gullet. It stretches it's wings in proud triumph, and then settles back to try it's luck once more.
I hear calls from the campground above, and it's with reluctance I leave this scene of beauty. the only thing that makes it palatable is the knowledge that there is more that awaits downstream, as my sisters and brother call for me to head to the swimming hole.
It's a small hike towards the swimming hole, and the path there holds it's own rewards, and its own distractions. Despite the eagerness to dive into the water at the end of the trail, we still aren’t able to make a direct beeline to the goal. A patch of huckleberries, gleaming red, catches my eye, and I pause to pick a good handful along the way. A patch of cloudberries awaits a few hundred metres up, and another stop is made. The cloudberries, being so close to the trail though, are largely picked over, but it doesn’t stop us from looking for a few of the tart orange-yellow berries.
Along the trail, I always keep my eyes on the ground, searching for another flash of yellow or orange. Not for berries but for a rarer treat, one that only presented itself once in any great quantity, during one of the wetter summers. I’m talking about cantarell mushrooms. My mouth still waters at the thought of them fried up, a smoky, slightly spicy flavour that is hard to define, but so memorable. No luck with them this time around though. The roar of the falls gets closer, as we near the next distraction, another man-made addition, but this one designed to help nature. A fish ladder. It’s the beginning of steelhead season, and the first swimmers are gliding past. We all stop to peer through the grates, laughing as each of us claim to have seen the ‘biggest one yet’. Of course, a little later in the fall, the “biggest ones yet” will arrive, in the form of Chinook salmon. Still, it’s a thrill to see them close up. From a greater distance, we can see those specimens that deem themselves too macho to use the man-made aid, and throw themselves up the white water of the falls. Sometimes this show captures our attention even more than the ladders, because even though the view is less accessible, the effort taken by these fish is nothing less than awe-inspiring. When one actually makes it up, a cheer or exclamation will arise from the spectators, however many there might be. (quite often another group of hikers has gotten side-tracked in pretty much the same spot).
But it’s the end of the trail that holds the greatest treasure, because it is not merely visual. Below the falls, and down a steep hill past where the main trail stops, there is a swimming hole, probably over 20 metres deep, with a slow moving current that even novice swimmers can get across. The salmon pass through here in numbers, resting before their upcoming bruising ordeal, so that it isn’t uncommon to feel a tickle at your toes as you swim across, or to see a school break apart as you pass through their midst. The water is cold, but very refreshing in the heat of summer. Cliffs on either side provide amazing diving platforms for the adventurous, and more than one yell of delight can be heard before a splash on busier days. But even on the busiest days only a few make the trip, locals that know of it, and regular visitors like us, who don’t mind going a bit out of the way for the best of experiences. This is my definition of paradise on earth, my definition of summer, and lives on in memory, but also in my future, as I plan to take my children there, and hopefully someday my grandchildren.