Open water greeted us, in Copper Center. The wind blew warm and fast. At the Tazlina Community Hall, everyone pulled up a chair, drank strong coffee, nibbled on dried salmon strips and sourdough. What do you know, Elders? What do you know, Fishers? What do you know, Scientists, about this river? Heads were scratched, feet shuffled, data dreamt for, and plans were made to talk again. From the linguist, I learned that in Ahtna, sleep (naał) comes from the word for omen, naa. In sleep comes a sign, a premonition, an omen, an oracle. I like the idea that in idle rest, an answer might be revealed.
When I called my mother, she was out of sorts. I don’t like the hearing aids, she said; they must be made by men. I don’t want to hear my hair swooshing, she said. I don’t want to hear my jacket when I put it on. I pause and think about the sound of my hair and my jacket and try to imagine silence where sound is now. How long have you had the hearing aids, I ask, remembering her tell me that the doctor said her hearing was excellent, which it is not. Oh, I got them yesterday. Well, why don’t you try them a bit longer, I say.
On the bridge over the Klutina River, I stop the truck and roll down the window, watching water flow past an open lead in the river. It hardly makes a sound. I hope that salmon, or their premonitions, still sleep soundly below.
Jessica Cherry, PhD is a scientist, writer, and commercial airplane pilot living in Anchorage and Fairbanks.