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by John Beaton

For Ian and Karen McAllister,
a couple dedicated to the preservation of The Great Bear Rainforest

creekwalker image
Photograph by Ian McAllister©, donated for this poem by
Raincoast Conservation

He jogs the hop-scotch patches worn to the earth
through treefrog-greens and sunlight spears and sparks
where grizzlies yield fawn-lilies careful berth,
confining their paws to these well-trodden marks

that stitch the forest.  And now he sees the ripple,
the splash, the whorl, the familiar wallowing
where fins and tails of sockeye salmon stipple
the glare. He's spent a lifetime following  

this valley to the creek's headwaters where
it plunges from its flume of mountain granite,
a cataract descending in a flare
of mare's-tails from the cloud-stream that began it.

And other creeks on both sides of the fiord,
are his—he must patrol them, count, and report;
the Fisheries Department cannot afford
its data-stream of hindsight to fall short  

of inundating prudence. He was raised
in Bella Bella where the Heiltsuk nation,
campaigning to save one valley, watch, amazed,
as others succumb to clear-cut desolation.

The numbers he has registered down the years,
plain as the petroglyphs, relate their stories—
runs dwindling as his lifespan shrinks. He fears
they'll go the way of the cod and the Grand Banks dories  

before his grandsons even open their eyes,
that they'll never see a ghost-white spirit bear.
Though ten Yosemites cannot match its size
he's worried for the Great Bear Rainforest where

the wolf-packs comb like sea-rain through the night
while cougars glide along the limbs of cedars
and orca pods disperse to assault each Bight
and Inlet, synchronized, conducted by leaders  

attuned instinctively to the seasonal drum
that beats to the massings of herring, sockeye, and pink
and, to seal-slap percussion, chinook and coho and chum
by river-mouth and run-time. Now the chink

of chains is signalling that a logging load
is readied for the booming-grounds and the sea.
He watches the truck dust-bombing down the road,
and then unsheathes his record-book where he

keeps tallies of these trips, of how they increase,
beside his log of the salmon runs' decline—
the balance-sheet of force-inflicted peace;
he turns towards the cedars, sensing a sign

like eagles, thousand-fold, he once saw craze
the seas of silvery euchalon shoals for oil
or the sedge-grass bursting, billiard table baize,
over estuaries where grizzlies root the soil.

A whiteness condenses among the moss and boughs
and slowly a spirit bear becomes manifest
and stands in the roseate light then turns and ploughs
through salmon redds towards the reddening west.


From Scotland originally, John Beaton lives on Vancouver Island where he and his wife have raised a family of five.  His poetry has appeared in many publications and he recites at Celtic events and Burns Suppers.  He is a moderator of "The Deep End" at Eratosphere, a leading on-line poetry workshop. John has recently retired from a career as an actuary.  

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