Contemplative Creek: Remembering Bruce Hill

I have this creek. It’s one of the places I go to when when I want to reflect, or chew on a problem, or need to reconnect with wild places. Over the years it’s provided excellent context for everything from undoing one of those tight, complex gut knots tied by the bony, anxious fingers of quotidian stress to the far larger task of dealing with the death of a good friend.

Today it’s the latter.

The first pool is shallow, as pools go, but it’s a deep one for this creek. Alder arms hang over its far side like they are about to snatch a salmon from the pellucid water below them.

The place has given me a few fish, all of them vivid cutthroat trout, and all of them from an enduring pocket a few feet above the pool’s tailrace.

I cast. Oona watches and waits as I follow the arc of the pale green floating line as it sweeps through the pool. As I do, I think of Bruce Hill, of how audacious he was, how determined he was to do the right thing. I think about how he and Myron, and Bruce’s friend, Rick, sailed to the Kitlope River, and how they were swept up by the beauty of the place. Bruce, who had spent a lot of time letting in light through forest canopies and processing the wood felled by the men who did, was particularly struck by the beauty of the last large pristine watershed in North American’s temperate rainforest, and was particularly galled that flagging was flying from its trees.

“They can’t log this place,” he told Myron. “They just can’t.”

In the same place at the same time, almost anyone else would have sighed in resignation then sailed off to catch another halibut, or fish for salmon.

Not Bruce.

Not knowing that the Haisla Nation and a U.S. environmental enterprise called ECO Trust were also upset by Hank Ketchum’s plans to mine the forests of the Kitlope, Bruce and Myron set out to prevent it. Eventually, there was a confluence of energy that created a synergy that resulted in the protection of a place as magnificent as any in creation.

If a man did nothing else in his life, being a central figure in that victory would have been enough.

Nothing comes to my minnow.

We move downstream through devil’s club then skirt a swamp to the old bridge crossing. I remembered that my friend Eckert shot a grizzly bear near this very spot some 40 years ago. I remembered how Bruce and his Haisla brother, Gerald, were so utterly appalled by the slaughter of the Kilope Grizzlies by the guide outfitters, that they successfully mounted a campaign to convince the Ministry of Environment to bring the barbaric hunt for the great bears to a halt.

It’s raining lightly now. I leave the bridge pool without contacting a fish. The dog lopes ahead, happy to move, and this triggers a memory of the time I visited Bruce in his office when he was working for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. He asked me how I was.

“No good,” I said then. I told how my dog had died from the downstream effects of being cuffed by a black bear that fall, and how I’d laid her to rest in the derelict chicken coop in my backyard because it was February and the ground was hard as concrete. Bruce sympathized. I went home. That afternoon, he came up the walk unannounced, with a pick in one hand and a bottle of Scotch in the other. I couldn’t break through the cold ground. Bruce could. When he had, we shared the excavation then buried my pooch and lifted a few glasses to her.

Further downstream there are wide paths through the grass and the deep impressions of big paws and long claws in the slippery estuary mud. The humpbacks are all but done, their ghostly carcasses melting into the creek bottom. We wade to a small island bar all but covered with pink salmon, the head bitten off every one. I feel a shiver.

There are dog salmon, spawned out, aimlessly cruising about in the clear water of the pool on the Island’s far side. After convincing myself there are no trout or char near the calico-sided salmon, I leave the Island of headless humpbacks and walk to where the creek is joined by another and they form a plunge pool, followed by a fast run before fanning out into the estuary.

I let my fly swing through the roily water and I’m into fish hiding under the turbulence. One of those fish, a bull trout, is 25 inches. The sight of it made me remember the even larger char Bruce caught in a similar spot on the Lakelse River. We caught fish after fish – steelhead, char, whitefish, and trout – that afternoon. We had a ball. He talked about it for years afterwards.

I’ll miss big Bruce. He did a lot for me. He did a lot for all of us.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artist Mike Dangeli gives his son, Hayetsk, a shoulder ride on Oct. 4. (Mike Dangeli/Instagram)
Skeena Voices | ‘The culture and the art saved my life’

Terrace-based artist shares stories of the journey that brought him here

The City of Terrace now requires masks at all indoor City facilities. (File Photo)
Masks to be required in all indoor City of Terrace facilities

Requirement comes as B.C. sees increase in COVID-19 cases

Northern Health saw 14 cases in one day earlier this week, the highest in one day since the beginning of the pandemic. (Image courtesy CDC)
Northern Health sees highest number of new COVID-19 cases in one day

Oct. 27 saw the highest number of new cases in the Health Authority since the start of the pandemic

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. When Jaime Battiste was in his early 20s, cable news channels were full of images of Mi’kmaq fishermen in New Brunswick battling federal fisheries officers over seized lobster traps. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
Nisga’a Lisims Government calls on Prime Minister to act in N.S. fisheries dispute

NLG President: “We are shocked by what’s happening in Nova Scotia”

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Search and Rescue Technicians carry a stretcher to the CH149 Cormorant during a 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Exercise in Tofino on February 28. (Photo by: Cpl Joey Beaudin, 19 Wing Imaging, Comox)
Father and son found dead after weeklong search near Pemberton

The father and son had set out for a day of mushroom picking last Thursday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A full moon rises over Mt. Cheam on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rare full moon, Daylight Saving makes for a uniquely spooky Halloween – despite COVID-19

We can’t host costume parties but this weekend is still one for the history books

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A study by SlotsOnlineCanada notes there is at least 88 hours of top-rated horror movies for Canadians to consume this Halloween. (Unsplash)
Spooks and Chill study reveals Canada’s favourite horror flicks

88 hours of top-rated horror movies can fill COVID-19 Halloween

Most Read