Salmon Stream Remembered by Elmer Wiens

Mennonite Tainted Fiction; References to Names, People, and Organizations are Fictitious

Comme au premier Jour by André Gagnon

The gravel and dirt dam doesn't seem so high anymore, and the pond behind the dam doesn't seem so deep, but its water still stretches on and on through the bush, around the rock bluff, disappearing finally into neighbour Dyck's woods. I am eight years old, but it's my job to drive the cattle from the back, roadside pasture to the barn for milking. Carefully, I view the spillway, flush from the early fall rains, as the water dances over the dam and gurgles downstream under the dying leaves of the overhanging blackberry bushes.

Yes! They are here! Two dark shadows in the water covered gravel that suddenly thrash, splash, and wriggle as I step into the water to cross. Quickly, the salmon dart up the spillway and disappear into the shadows on the pond. The salmon run is on again! Too late, my dog, Blacky, races toward the salmon, barking excitedly, having been delayed investigating some interesting smells among the corn stubble in an adjacent field.

"Quit fooling around, Blacky. Remember the Indian family who helped pick raspberries? They were from Columbia Valley from over Vedder Mountain. He said the first salmon in the stream is a holy salmon. Let's get the cows in. We'll be fishing soon enough."

Skirting the pond on our left, we trot by the hollow, burnt-out, knurled cedar log that my friend Abe and I man fishing for trout in the pond.

"This is where we saw the Canada geese last year, Blacky. Remember? Abe says they were eating the grass. I thought just cows, sheep, goats, and horses eat grass."

Ahead, two ducks emerge from the glimmering dimness of the pond and quack their way across the fields towards the Vedder River.

Sensing their milking time, most of the cows wend their way along the dung freckled, trodden path, and past the throngs of blackberry bushes. With Blacky yapping at their heels, the two stragglers we found near the foot of Vedder Mountain close the gap on the herd.

Panting to catch my breath from whooping at the cows I say, "Dad says he grows and raises and sells for as much money as he can. Mom says the money that's left after everything is paid for is what counts. Blacky, this winter I'm going to sell worms to the fishermen going to the river."

Only the towering corn silo can be seen above the blackberries and poplar trees that throttle the stream, and hide our chicken barns, pig shed, cow barn, and house.

"One of these days I'm going to chop a trail to the creek here, Blacky. Must be all kinds of fish in there. Perhaps there is even a heron's nest. Keep 'em moving, Blacky. I see Irma in the orchard."

I lope across our pasture to Vedder Mountain Road across from the Bunse's orchard, trying to be like the deer we sometimes see leaping over the barbed wire fence next to the road.

"Hi there, Irma. What are you doing?"

"I have to pick up the winter apples from the wind last night. O.K. Mom's baking apple pie and strudel. O.K. Did you see a baby Sasquatch or Indian in the pond again? Huh?"

"It wasn't that. It was a beaver or muskrat. Did Abe tell you that?"

"Yeah, he told me. Can you and Luetta come over and play?" she said, and then twirled around, skirt flying.

Feeling old for my age, I say, "Not tomorrow. I'm going to school now. Remember? We'll come over on Sunday after church."

"Do you want them all to be Mennonites too, Elmer?"

"Maybe they don't want to. But we'll come over."

"O.K. We'll roll down the orchard hill again, O.K. And then we'll gather coloured maple leaves. O.K.," she laughs.

As I run to catch up with Blacky and the cows, she shouts after me, "Why do you love your creek so much, Elmer? Doesn't the stinky, rotten smell bother you, when all those fish die?"

By now the lead cows are entering the ford above the Browne Road Bridge. As I arrive to stand guard on the mound of dirt next to the fence, old man Rowtasch herds his Jersey cows along Browne Road to his large barn. His cattle stomp up the dust, and the herd stretches north down Browne Road towards the Vedder River.

"You would get more milk if you switched to Holsteins," I exclaim.

"Maybe so, see. So, who is the farmer here, see," Rowtasch retorts, snapping the suspenders of his engineer overalls. "Me, I want cream, see. What's wrong? Are you still scared of my bull? I saw you crossing the creek on the log above your milk cooling pond on your way to the school bus this morning."

I reply, "Maybe so, see." Changing the subject I ask, "Did you know the salmon are running?"

"Sure do, see. Thought I saw a couple in the old Cariboo Trail ford there earlier, see. It was the Gold Rush trail up to Yale on the Fraser, see. In a couple of weeks, your cows will be walking across on their backs, see."

"We'll be fishing soon enough, see," I laugh.

"Couple of years since your dad built that dam, we've been ear deep in fish," he says, lighting the Swiss pipe jutting from his fuzzy face.

"Going to catch coho and steelhead this year," I burst out.

"Why, did the game warden catch you last year?" he asks, kicking a rock with his manure stained gumboot. "Year before the RCMP got after the Reimer and Kopp boys, see. They were killing salmon right there in the ford, on their way home from school."

"Maybe so, see. He said no humpies, just coho and steelhead." I dig a stone from the dirt and skip it up the creek.

"Tuts gut mit dem Stein," laughs Rowtasch. "Don't tell them if you catch steelhead, see. Don't need swarms of fishermen here, see. Your older brother used to catch trout with raspberries and strawberries, see. He was the fisherman, see."

"Not since I caught twenty trout in the pond from the dugout canoe, see. He and Abe got skunked, see. Me, I use worms," I say, adjusting the cowboy buckle on my belt.

"I know, see. Abe told Dave and Dave told Martin and Martin tells me, see. At the gate, mornings when I herd the cattle to the Vedder River pasture. Don't think those were trout you caught, see."

"Maybe so, see. Looked like trout to me. Are you bringing a steelhead for New Year's dinner again this year?"

"Maybe so, see. Maybe so, see," he mutters as he hurries up the road. "Auf Weidersehen."

I cross the creek on the bridge, while Blacky swims across.

"Blacky, Abe says Rowtasch locks his doors with Yale locks and has a gun standing in each corner of his house. We don't have any guns, Blacky."

Past my favourite trout fishing log, past the milk can cooling pond, up the hill towards the lit, open door of the cow barn, Blacky and I drive the cows. Sensing oats and fresh hay, the mooing cows need no further encouragement.

When we reach the barbed wire fence by the lawn, across from our farm road, we see Mom scurrying towards the house under the billowing sheets and flapping jeans hanging on the wash line. She is carrying two jars from our earth and grapevine covered cellar at the edge of our apple, cherry, pear, and plum orchard.

"That is where we go if the war comes here, Blacky. Looks like canned chicken for dinner tomorrow. My favourite."

"Blacky, better hope she doesn't remember what I did with Luetta's 'Nurse Nancy' book. And then there is still the story I told Alfred about the little people who live under the frost heaves. The time we were practicing waiting for the school bus."

A pale, full moon hangs low in the eastern sky at the corner of Vedder Mountain. Mt. Cheam's snowy peaks shiver in the moonlight. The 'Big Dipper' spills just a small portion of its contents into the northern sky.

"Ray says that's why we can't see the Northern Lights from here."

The lights of a car glide down Browne Road and enter our roadside garage.

"Dad's home from work at the army camp, just in time for the milking. Did you know he is a fireman?"

"Blacky, can you see the big "W" in the sky above the clothes' line pole, there over the cedars along Vedder River? That is my last initial."

Klaassen's pigeons wheel above our garage woodlot and windbreak, and wing back toward their farm on the far side of Rowtasch woods. Only one bright star can be seen in the still light western sky.

"Maybe that's Venus, Blacky, maybe so. Tomorrow we go fishing, if it is nice."

Wiens, Elmer, 2011. "Salmon Stream Remembered." Rhubarb Magazine, The Mennonite Literary Society, vol. 28, pages 39-40, Winter.

© Elmer Wiens





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