Written with great care and affection, this account of canoeing the length of the Yukon reads like an infatuated love letter to the river. No observation is ignored, however subtle, and no judgements are made. By following the journey of the river, Weymouth clings to the faint signs of human life in this most rugged and wild of terrains. Wildlife is plentiful, some welcome, others, such as large bears, perhaps less so. ‘Knowing that if I wrote out the food chain of the forest I would not place myself at the apex gives me a deep sense of connection to this land,’ he writes. ‘I am accustomed to eating. Now, I can be eaten.’
Probably more interesting to the bears, however, are the main attraction which draw him to this particular corner of the world: the salmon. Led by the iconic king salmon, they migrate roughly 2,000 miles upriver during the summer – across the entirety of Alaska and into Canada’s Yukon territory – to return to the area from which they spawned, the longest such run in the world. Weymouth is endlessly enamoured by them, their colours, their resilience, their determination to battle upstream despite the natural and human obstacles. Probably the only ones whose minds are even more focused on the salmon are the human residents of the communities dotted along the length of the river, whose lives traditionally revolved around the subsistence fishing which accompanied the annual migration for generations.
“However, times have changed, and dwindling numbers of salmon means fishing bans have been introduced to the river, radically alternating the identities of these communities”
Traditional salmon cooking practices are no longer being passed from generation to generation, while folklore tales of catching enormous fish fade from the memories.
There is certainly some patience required with reading this book; there are few places for anyone not able to get on board with Weymouth’s personal fascination with king salmon to hide. But there is plenty to enjoy, from his detailed and intimate descriptions of the wild landscape through which he paddles, to the profiles he draws of the local characters encountered en route.