Trespassing in the Garden
by Donald Mitchell
Their bodies rise out of the dusky moiré of the creek, flash copper and garnet, scales lit by fall leaves burning in a violet fire. They roll under the silty light, flop on their sides, shake like Irish setters. I watch them from the boughs of Douglas fir, on a ridge overlooking the stream. The water is holy now, the spawn in full swing—colors darken and blanch, the undershirts of the current turn inside out, shadows lunge. The gravel wakes up. This creek, one branch on the big tree of the river, drops its fruit, forbidden, bound to be picked and eaten.
I am careful not to move or even offer a silhouette to disturb in any way the rapture of the salmon. I hear a noise from behind me—a naked ball of lightning streaks past, strikes the deepest hole in the creek where all the salmon congregate, making the entire pool explode with panic. It’s Suzi, my Dalmatian-mutt mix, all of her dark spots and patches over gleaming white, all legs and nose and tail, oblivious to the somber, sacred agony of the bodies surging around her. She looks up at me, puffing and grinning.
I shake my head. We have broken a great taboo. My inattention and her glare and inky polka dots—she is heresy on the hallowed water, bone dice on the cloak of Jesus. The salmon are disturbed: some dash away, burst upstream or down, others remain near but press up against one another, trembling like startled puppies. Now I see many I hadn’t seen before, materializing from the roily tumble—our little creek is brimming with silver salmon, stained the color of pomegranates and charred like burnt aluminum.
I sit and watch, do not call Suzi away or scold her. Like a wound healing over an intrusion, the salmon begin to converge again, to move easily, softly undulating, sloshing their tails and noses up out of the water, sliding themselves around Suzi’s irregular bulk, her body just another rupture of snag or rock—another bone in the body of the stream. They go on with the business of living and dying, keeping the gates of their garden defended. And in that water the color of blood and clay, I realize that Suzi, cooling her belly on their nests of milt and roe, is blessed by how she can and cannot blend, unashamed, lapping the water with her bright, pink tongue.
About Donald Mitchell
Donald Mitchell lives in Deming, WA, on land his great grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. He’s lived there all his life under the Douglas fir and red cedar, writing poetry and prose for most of that life. He works manual labor jobs to pay the bills. He’s mostly restless and maladjusted but likes to hang out with his dogs (his awesome black and white cat, Boots, died), daydream, and drink wine or beer with friends. He’s been published in Moss and The Boiler.