Traveling Diorama Along Lower Whatcom Creek

“Our simplest wisdom is to follow the sea-bright salmon home.” ~
~ unattributed

with lines from JB


On a ramble down lower Whatcom Creek, I’m showing
a favorite place to a friend, and this sharing is a fine thing.
Salmon sculptures along the trail remind me this is a creek
of promise and return.

After I hear a description of this creek as wildlife corridor,
I’m certain it must be so. We see an owl perched on a branch
overhanging rushing water. I can’t tell if it is awake or asleep.
Machinations and noise—we’re on the edge of downtown—
don’t seem to disturb it. After we cross a bridge and walk
the trail above the opposite bank we look for the owl again
but it’s gone. This gently winding corridor of green is refuge
for wildlife and others seeking escape from the city’s hard
indifference. A homeless man sleeps on a bench, enfolded
in a grimy sleeping bag. Even in this refuge there is pain
and hardness bearing down—there are other homeless men
and women scattered along the trail. We’re not asked
for money or assistance, but at times I sense evaluation
at work, scraping over us. We admire a native style carving
of an eagle, and it towers over us.

Dense elongated cones of giant sequoias arrow the sky,
except for one that likely has been storm-damaged.
The damage from the flash-fire from the pipeline rupture
and explosion is mostly to the east of us. Here, though,
some lower tree trunks may be fire scorched.


On the following day I return. I want to immerse myself
in the promise of this area.

Humans have been here for a long time. Whatcom Creek
flows into an estuary bordered by Maritime Heritage Park
and a salmon hatchery. Signage here includes Lummi
and Nooksack names for plants. Even in English most
of these names are new to me; I know only a few:

Vine Maple, Red Alder, Douglas Fir, Western Redcedar

The naming and renaming continues. Most I don’t know:

Blue Elderberry, Black Twinberry, Nootka Rose

Signage states that while this riparian strip is only one
percent of the city’s land area, it supports eighty percent
of the wildlife within the city.

Oceanspray, Grand Fir, Trailing Blackberry

Today there are groups of schoolchildren with a scattering
of adults. They are learning about the estuary and the area’s
plants and animals.

Beach Strawberry, Red Elderberry, Salal, Fireweed

I’ve seen mallards, Canadian Geese, a great blue heron,
and a sea otter here in the estuary, and salmon pushing up
the creek, negotiating the falls.

Common Bearberry. I prefer Kinnikkinnik immediately.

At the top of the bluff below the old government building
a group of young people sits on the steps of the amphitheater.
One, exuberant, is yelling nearly continuously.

Oregon Ash, California Redwood, Tall Oregon-Grape
and Dull Oregon-Grape, Giant Sequoia

Of all these plants and animals and people—some are native,
some are transplants.

In search of a home, I was a transplant. I remain a transplant.

Some homeless remain. We are homeless, we are not homeless.
Why wouldn’t the natural world welcome us, all of us? Despite
denial, we are part of nature. Can we carve out more habitat
for wildlife here and everywhere?

The future, too, is here: immediately south of here is the old
paper manufacturing site. Bellingham retains a generational
opportunity to remake its waterfront and transform the former
sprawling industrial site into something people friendly.

The future is promise and return, willingness and reinvention.

The sign recounting the native legend of “Salmon Woman
and Her Children” is damaged. Its heavy plastic has been cut
away, vandalized. I’m reminded that in 2009 my girlfriend
and I participated in a ceremony here singing the salmon
home. Some salmon returned; she’s now another ex.

I—who am lonely-not-lonely—will be attentive, welcoming.
Salmon, and my new companion—wherever you are—
I will sing you home. I will sing you home to me.

Andrew Shattuck McBride
PaPoWriMo ~ 2012 *Day 30 Poem*
October 31, 2012


The quotation is on the outside of the bronze bell created
by artist Tom Jay and situated in Maritime Heritage Park.

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
This entry was posted in Andrew Shattuck McBride Writer, Art in Our Bellingham, Can We Talk?, PaPoWriMo ~ 2012, Samples, The Quotidian, Trail Offerings, Transformation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Traveling Diorama Along Lower Whatcom Creek

  1. sonofwalt says:

    Forgive me. What I am about to say is anything but professorial, anything but properly literary, anything but grammatical, really, but–Oh. My. God. I sit here stunned. What are you doing inside my head, Andrew? I had a discussion with my partner this week saying that despite all we say to the contrary a prevalent theme in literature, particularly juvenile literature, or literature that should rise above the naive, and yet is still geared toward uneducated adults, is a theme of man against nature. But we are part of nature, and going against it is part of the problem in the first place. Maybe I truly am a Taoist. And then you draw me in with this poem, and sock me first with:
    We are homeless, we are not homeless.
    Why wouldn’t the natural world welcome us, all of us? Despite
    denial, we are part of nature.
    Then you punch me in the gut again, about the salmon, the ex, and the future companion.
    Forgive me if I go on and on, but Andrew, this is the stuff that classics are made of. One of the best poems I’ve read lately.

  2. sonofwalt says:

    And I read a lot. 🙂

  3. Thank you very much for your comments here. I’m grateful.

    “Traveling Diorama…” is a treatment of some of the issues I’ve been concerned with for a long time. Homelessness, finding home, exile, First or indigenous Peoples, environmental degradation, and the false dichotomy of “man vs. nature.” I am very concerned about the “6th Great Extinction” that is ongoing but hear very little about in the media.

    I characterize this piece as experimental and risky because it sprawls and is undisciplined. However, it is all heart.

    Thank you again, Andy

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