Ashes

THE LAKELSE River is high, but clear. I go there to see if any sockeye are flipping about.

THE LAKELSE River is high, but clear. I go there to see if any sockeye are flipping about. There is nobody on the upper river. The area surrounding Finlay’s monument has been freshly swept. His son, Bruce,  must have been in town lately and made the pilgrimage to their dad’s final resting spot. I sit on a stump at the opening to the river where Edger Brock’s son scattered his father’s ashes before hanging a small green metal sign to commemorate the event. I look out across the river to the spot where Hugh Storey told me he would like his ashes scattered. Over the course of the splendid fall and winter five years ago, Hugh hooked over a hundred Lakelse River steelhead, most of them standing just downstream of that spot. Over the long snowy winter another hemlock has come down in almost the same spot as the one that was swept away two years ago. It will please him to see it there.

I slip into the river. The dog follows along the bank but just can’t resist the temptation to plunge in. As I make my way downstream she treads water below me, inexorably losing ground until she’s a long way below me where, thankfully, she makes her way to shore. As I change to a partridge and orange, she trots back up the trail, enters the water, and swims out again with the same result. She has the strength to repeat this drill all day, I’m sure, but I can tell she doesn’t like the water all that much, and since no bites are forthcoming, I call her and we make our way up the trail toward Herman’s Point. When we get there, I discover the remains of a fire some fool has made in the middle of the trail. Charred beer cans lie in the ashes. I suspect the fire was made by kids who defied the power boat boundary to motor down to this beautiful spot to party. As I bend down to pick the charred cans from the ashes, I spot Reg’s sign, not where it has been 33 years, but hastily nailed to a tree five feet above the trail. IN MEMORY, it reads, REGINALD MARTYN SIEBEN, FEBRUARY 16, 1956 – MARCH 20, 1986.

Reg was an avid fisherman. The last time I saw him, mere months before he died, was a hundred metres below Hugh’s tree. It was early in December in one of those years when the first cold snap comes early and the river shrinks overnight. The river was dark and quiet under a dark cold sky, the wind bitter, and the banks were carpeted with snow. Reg was on his way out after fishing through the flats without success. I told him I thought there should still be a few steelhead around despite the low water. He waded to shore. I waded to a place that would afford me a good drift over a small pocket next to a pile of rocks on the far side of the river. That pocket is still there. It looks unchanged, yet it hasn’t held fish for years. It held fish then, lots of them. And, despite the slow, low flows, it held one that day. As I struggled with it, Reg’s voice startled me. I’d assumed he’d left. If there was a fish there, I knew you’d find it, he called out.

Jim Culp had a small tackle shop on highway 16 in those days. He hired Reg when the logging industry took one of its many downturns. Reg was in his late twenties with a pretty wife who augmented the meagre family income by working as a clerk in Cole’s book store. They had two young children, a girl and a boy. Reg fished a lot then. Possibly to escape the turmoil in his life. And there clearly was turmoil in because his wife took the kids and left him. Shortly after that, Reg checked out.

After the funeral his family scattered his ashes at Herman’s and nailed a small wooden sign of a spruce overlooking a gentle pool in the creek. The sign was modest, like Reg. You would be hard pressed to see it if you didn’t know it was there. It hung, unobtrusively, until some jerk scouring the bush for kindling found it and tossed it into the flames. I found the scorched remains in the dead fire, the dedication still discernible. I took it to Mike Whelpley, whose dad, Jack, took the information and made a replica of the old sign on varnished yellow cedar. Mike took the sign and a ladder to Herman’s and nailed it to another spruce, about 6 metres up this time.

Now, some thirty years later, it has been knocked down again by some disrespectful scum  then put up again by some decent fellow, or, possibly, by a witness to the vandalism who felt some remorse.

I’m appalled just like I was the first time. I take a picture with my phone and forward to Mike, who, with a failing heart and kidneys, is fighting for his life in Prince George General.

It’s still up, Mike, I typed beneath the picture.