Author Tags: Natural History
Born in Victoria on August 20, 1950, Mark Hume has specialized in environmental journalism for which he has received a National Newspaper Award, a Michener citation, several B.C. journalism awards, a Haig-Brown Award from the American Fisheries Society, a Canadian Science Writers Award and two B.C. Book Prizes. When the former Vancouver Sun journalist received the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize in 1999 for River of the Angry Moon, Seasons of the Bella Coola (Greystone, 1998), co-written with Harvey Thommasen, he said, "I want to thank Harvey Thommasen, who couldn’t be here tonight, but who provided the scientific foundation for this book. It took him seven years. If you’ve read that book, you’ll see there’s a lot of details in there about biodiversity. None of that information about the Bella Coola was known until Harvey Thommasen did it... I don’t really know how to thank someone who’s dead, but I do feel I should mention his name tonight: Ted Hughes, a poet-laureate of Great Britain. He used to slip into British Columbia every few years and fish the rivers for steelhead. He gave me a great deal of encouragement for this book. He was inspirational to me shortly before he died. He knew that the rivers of British Columbia are not to be taken lightly." In 2005, Mark Hume became a co-recipient of the BC Booksellers' Choice Award in Honour of Bill Duthie for Birds of the Raincoast: Habits and Habitat (Harbour, 2004), co-written with Harvey Thomassen, Kevin Hutchings and R. Wayne Campbell. In his acceptance speech he acknowledge the roles of the staff of Harbour Publishing and the integral support of the University of North British Columbia. His preceding books are The Run of the River: Portraits of Eleven British Columbia Rivers (New Star, 1992) and Adam's River: The Mystery of the Adam's River Sockeye (New Star, 1994).
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
River of the Angry Moon: Seasons on the Bella Coola
The Run of the River: Portraits of Eleven British Columbia Rivers (New Star, 1992).
Adam's River: The Mystery of the Adam's River Sockeye (New Star, 1994).
River of the Angry Moon, Seasons of the Bella Coola (Greystone, 1998), co-written with Harvey Thommasen.
Birds of the Raincoast: Habits and Habitat (Harbour, 2004), co-written with Harvey Thomassen, Kevin Hutchings and R. Wayne Campbell.
[BCBW 2005] "Natural History"
River of the Angry Moon (Greystone $26.95)
Descending Highway 20 into the Bella Coola Valley is like experiencing free fall without leaving ground. Locals may scoff, but the nearly vertical ‘Big Hill’ warrants a five star white knuckle rating.
The road links dry, grassy Chilcotin plateau with a rainforest so rich and verdant it reaches out to embrace you. Separating them is the mile-high Coast Mountain Range, a barrier so steep and rugged that the provincial government refused to spend money on a road. Residents of Bella Coola and Anahim Lake built a road themselves in the early ‘50s.
The Bella Coola River and its tributaries, tumbling from the same mountains, are revered for unsurpassed fishing: steelhead, cutthroat, coho and chinook. But the pulse of the river grows ever fainter. A ban on steelhead fishing—the most treasured of sportsfish—was recently imposed.
“Nature is resilient and salmon are incredibly fecund,” says Mark Hume in River of the Angry Moon (Greystone $26.95). “The waters should abound with fish. When they do not, it’s a sign of terrible mismanagement, not by fisheries bureaucrats, but by society as a whole.”
Born in Victoria in 1950, Hume is a veteran reporter who’s covered B.C. for the Vancouver Sun and now the National Post. One of five boys, he was the only one to catch the fishing bug as a child in Penticton.
“It’s almost like a fishing gene you inherit”, he muses.
As a young teen he stumbled across the writings of Roderick Haig-Brown in a Victoria library. He eventually decided he wanted to fly-fish and write like the Campbell River lay magistrate.
The seeds of a strong conservation ethic were planted. In both of his previous books, The Run of the River and Adam’s River, Hume argue for better stewardship of rivers and more responsible fishing.
Hume gravitated to the Bella Coola River after friend and physician Harvey Thommasen moved to Bella Coola. Thommasen, who wrote River of the Angry Moon with Hume, previously compiled and edited two bestsellers about the life and times of Clayton Mack, Grizzlies & White Guys and Bella Coola Man.
Hume and Thommasen spent many hours walking, talking and casting into
its pools and riffles. Over the years Thommasen catalogued much of the ecosystem’s flora and fauna and collected stories from elders about the way it used to be. He realized the Bella Coola and its tributaries were under siege; a meat fish mentality in the sports fishery and a relentless commercial fleet were wiping out the most valued runs. As well, some Nuxalt natives used river nets, targeting the weakest stocks. Silt oozing from clearcuts choked the finest spawning streams.
Hume and Thommasen resolved to write a book that would alert people to the river’s plight and counter a local belief the fish “would always come back.” River of the Angry Moon, subtitled Seasons on the Bella Coola, is part lament for what was, yet it also celebrates what remains and what could be again. There is an undercurrent of optimism throughout.
The wild Bella Coola River carves a mesmerizing path through each chapter, linked to the moons of the Native Nuxalt calendar. In spring, yellow stone flies dance off its surface, in winter silvery steelhead rest in deep pools conserving energy for the spawn. We catch the husky scent of skunk cabbage, hear the woof of an agitated grizzly and watch light caress rainforest. Hume captures the river’s own poetry.
“The river is fed by the sky. It runs over a bed of shattered mountains, through the dreams of a great forest
and into the mouths of ancient fishes. It starts in clouds as grey and heavy as the sea and ends in a
windswept estuary haunted by ghosts. It is a place where white swans dance on dark mud flats and salmon lay fragile eggs in nests of stone.”
Fly-fishers will appreciate Hume’s delight at reading seams and currents, casting the perfect fly imitation - rewarded by the electric surge of fish on line. The two men pull on scuba masks to float the river in neoprene sailboarding suits encountering ghostly columns of dark chinook and rainbows feeding in rapids. Hume seems to become the river itself.
“Hanging listless, drifting where the current takes me, I lose touch with my body and start to melt into the green light. Only the sound of my lungs brings me back.”
Old timers’ memories and newspaper accounts reveal how overfishing on the Bella Coola was a significant problem even 75 years ago. On one fishing excursion, three men killed 732 fish. By the mid 1990’s what appeared to be a limitless bounty was virtually exhausted - steelhead stocks reduced from 10,000 to a mere handful. Chinook and coho stocks are also in crisis, the same sombre story played out on river systems from Alaska to Oregon.
Hume reminds us that wildlife managers in the last century outlawed commercial hunting of animals to save them from extinction; he says nature can’t keep up with today’s industrial harvesting and similiar action is required for at-risk fish stocks.
Writing the book was a welcome change from newspaper reporting. “It allowed me to put myself in the story,” he says, “tap into my feelings and express myself. As a reporter I can’t do that.”
The late British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes also provided unexpected inspiration. Hughes had written about fishing B.C’s famous Dean River and while attending a Steelhead Society fund raiser he was interviewed by Hume. The poet remarked how much he had enjoyed Mark’s first book The Run of the River. Shortly before his death, Hughes sent a letter encouraging Hume to complete the Bella Coola book.
Hume paid tribute to Hughes at this year’s B.C. Book Prizes when he accepted the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize awarded to the book that best contributes to the understanding and appreciation of B.C. 1-55054-660-0
--By Mark Forsythe
[BCBW SUMMER 1999]