Back After negotiating the beaverworks, I step onto a stretch of flat, muddy ground along the river's edge and follow it upstream as far as it goes. When it peters out, I wade thigh-deep into a side channel, making my way to a place where the land drops sharply into the river. It's a chokepoint of sorts, where water and earth conspire against anyone coming this way. I climb out of the water and scramble up a steep, wooded bank, hoping to find a game trail. Losing my footing on the slippery bank, I fall flat on my face. That's when I spot two large feathers on the ground nearby. Eagle feathers! They are beautiful, brown and white objects that immediately capture my imagination. Some kind of mystical power seems to emanate from them. No wonder that Native Americans hold them in such high esteem. I pocket the feathers, then move on. Sure enough, I find a game trail just a few feet up the bank. But after hiking only thirty yards down it, I am stopped dead in my tracks by a wall of devil's club. This prickly plant, a cross between a thorn bush and stinging nettle, is troublesome enough when it's waist-high. In front of me right now is a tangle of it towering well over my head. I'm not going another foot forward - that's all there is to it. So I pull out, sliding down the steep bank then wading back to the muddy, open ground. Okay, switch to plan B. I'll do a little fishing, instead. The beaverworks along the side channel queue me to a few deep holes. Good trout habitat. Walking a gravel bar that separates the side channel from the rest of the river, I cast my line into those holes, hoping to create a little interest. One quick bump results. Perhaps my lure only snagged bottom, though. I give the next few casts my best effort, concentrating on placement and presentation. Strike! Something big, very big takes my old British spinner. After quickly readjusting the drag, I coax the fish up the channel, then back downstream. We dance for several minutes like that, each of us in our own element, until I feel lucky enough to attempt a landing. Right after the struggling fish makes a sharp turn, I tighten the line and, sure enough, it flips onto the gravel beach. It's hard to say who's more surprised: me or the fish. "Salmon?" I ask myself as the monster flops around on the gravel bar. No, it's a steelhead. The rainbow-like markings on its sides are unmistakable. Huge! Five pounds, at least! I grab the trout around its midsection to measure its girth, but my hands aren't big enough. Now what should I do with it? The fish is way too big to skewer and cook over a fire, so I'll have to let it go. Good idea but fool that I am, I slip the trout back into the water before removing the lure. Consequently, the trout thrashes about, slashing open my finger with one of its sharp teeth as I reach down to loosen the hook. My hand recoils automatically. Just then, with one great wave of its tail, the trout snaps the line and disappears back into the drink. Scrambling to my feet, I raise my eyes to the sky while letting out a gut-busting howl. The low clouds overhead pelt my face with a thin drizzle. The sound of my voice echoes through the Endicott Valley. Bald eagles take notice. One swoops down the river - its broad wings flapping in slow motion. It flies right in front of me, keeping pace with the roily stream. I watch it pass while letting the cut in my finger bleed freely. Tall conifers on mountain slopes stand silent and still. The gray mist hanging over the river makes this place seem unspeakably wild and beautiful. And the bright red fluid flowing from my fingertip drops to the round, smooth stones of the gravel bar in tiny explosions. End