Photo by Saul Weisberg

Skagit Notes: 20 Years of Canoe Tripping

These four poems originate from 20 years of canoe tripping on the Skagit River from Ross Lake to the Salish Sea. The Skagit is a river, a watershed, a cultural identity, a place of spirits, and a home. As a guest on native land, I acknowledge the people whose longhouses and seasonal camps bordered the river from the mountains to the sea since time immemorial. Their descendants include the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and the Nlaka’pamux Nation.

Valley of the Spirits


Skagit River –

a dark ribbon of moving light.


Spring rain brings flowers,

summer rain feeds the people,

fall rain quenches fires,

winter rain calls the salmon home.


Paddling through this land,

your stories witnessed by trees,

we know the stars by different names.


In the calm between storms,

the night is alive

with the cries of migrating geese.





Mare’s tails fill the sky,

sweat runs into our eyes,

we pull into the wind.


Six-hour paddle up the East Bank,

steady wind and whitecaps.

We stand in knee-deep waves

to unload the canoe.


Summits rise above

cloud-shrouded mountains,

pale October sky.


Many trails linger

below the surface

of the lake.


Some day

the dams will be gone –

old campsites emerge.

Photo by John D’Onofrio




We paddle through green valleys,

listening for the calls of small birds.

18 miles on the river today,

past Sauk Delta rocks and snags.


In the long twilight of a summer afternoon

we build a fire in rocks by water,

camp on narrow sand spit in tall grass.


Tomorrow, downstream,

the day after, downstream.



River Notes


Skagit mist rises

spring floods fill Newhalem Gorge

it was all like this before.


People name things

even if they already have names

that’s not the worst we do.


Far below

Diablo Lake a silver thread

late morning sun.


Sunset beach

broken paddle

yesterday’s rapids.


The waterfall is full

of good intentions

and pools of abundance.


Diablo Gorge narrows

the river turns on its side

salmon wait.


Saul Weisberg worked as a wilderness climbing ranger, field biologist, fire lookout, and commercial fisherman before starting North Cascades Institute. Now retired after 35 years as executive director, he loves paying attention to the natural world, canoeing in the rain, walking in the mountains and writing poems. He lives in Bellingham. 


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