“They knew the dam should come down as soon as the last of the concrete set but it took ’em a century to do it. Tomorrow it’s kablooey.” His fingers spread to form a mushroom cloud, the grit under his nails flashed dark as debris.
Josh was behind me with the camera on his shoulder. I hoped he had captured a close-up of Harold’s ‘kablooey’ gesture. I’d edit that with explosion footage for documentary gold.
Harold had been reluctant to talk but opened up as they always do. We sat with coffee mugs and an ashtray between us in the diner at the marina where he dry-docked his aluminum troller, Lady Gladys.
“My grandfather built the dam for Aldwell, the visionary, but didn’t respect him,” Harold said. “Aldwell was cheap and slippery. He didn’t make the promised fish ladders. He didn’t secure the dam to the river’s bedrock either, so it busted the minute it felt pressure. That was 1911 or ’12. Almost lost a man in the flood.” Harold lifted his cap and scratched at his silver hair; Josh kept filming. “Shoulda left it in pieces, but they rebuilt.”
After Harold, we found the artists in a forest studio. A folk musician draped in indigo silk introduced one man who sculpted salmon skeletons from bleached driftwood and another who stacked stones into towers at the edges of the spit that stretched from the mill to the Coast Guard station. The musician sang to the camera about a dead river’s resurrection. The sculptor thumped a leather-skinned drum off-beat. The stone stacker ignored the spectacle.
On the way to the hotel, Josh slapped the steering wheel and grinned. “That was great! The people! Wow!”
Josh was enthusiastic and boyish and beautiful. He had a swimmer’s chest; my palm fit perfectly in the hollow below the ridges of his clavicle. We went to his hotel room after checking in as we had on the last few assignments. It was over, though, whatever was between us. Steve was moving back in. I had intended to tell Josh on the drive west, but then he put his hand on my leg and it felt so nice that I watched the moment to tell come and go, receding with the highway signs.
The phone in my room rang late. “Look to the far side of the dam,” said a graveled voice.
“Who is this?” I asked but the voice was gone.
In the morning, on the shore of the dam’s stagnant lake, I stared across the water through speeches and the unveiling of wooden fish. The start of the blast countdown brought a flick of movement on the far bank. A man climbed to a shelf in the dam’s middle and sidled along it with arms spread. It was the stone stacker. I touched Josh’s shoulder and raised my camera to take stills. Only we saw the man; the countdown continued. Two more shots and I’d call out.
published 10 June 2015