There’s Something in the Water
Words & Photo by Jessica Kelley
My rugged little Summit Pack has not yet been to the top of any summit, anywhere. Instead, it’s been tossed in the bottom of a packraft, covered in thick river silt, and used as an on-deck drybag while I paddled from Eagle to Circle on the Yukon River. During that trip, it safely cradled all the necessities I would need for 50+ mile days on the river, like my camera, my Rite-in-the-Rain journal, and my treasured can of Pringles purchased from the only store in Eagle. I would rest my muddy feet on the pack while I watched the Alaskan wilderness pass by, listening to the hiss of the Yukon River silt against the hull of my boat.
Of course, the Yukon trip wasn’t the first time my Summit Pack had been in a boat. It’d had plenty of practice back at home, on classic Pacific Northwest rivers like the lower Deschutes, the Yakima, and the Snoqualmie.
The Snoqualmie is a river that starts in the Cascade mountains and ultimately makes its way down to Puget Sound after passing through foothills and farmland. Folks in everything from cheap inner tubes to fiberglass sea kayaks float the lower Snoqualmie, stopping at scenic swimming holes on hot summer days to cool off.
It was just such a day on the Snoqualmie – 85F, sunny, quiet - and I was paddling alone through a rural stretch of the river outside of Carnation, WA when I noticed an object come flying over the river bank and land in the river with a loud PLONK. The riverbank through this section is steep, tall, and covered in blackberry bushes. I couldn’t see over the top, but the trajectory of the object suggested that some unseen person had heaved it over the wall of blackberry bushes and into the water. Not 30 seconds later, another object came flying over, making an even bigger splash, and then finally, a third object landed in the water only 50 ft in front of me. Partly curious, and partly because I wanted to avoid getting hit if more objects were coming, I paddled harder to get out of the landing zone and to catch up with these items as they floated down the river ahead of me. Who was throwing things into the river, what were they throwing, and why?
As I approached the first object, I could tell that it was pink and shaped oddly like a heart. Not a valentine heart, but a real heart–a heart that you might find in a living, breathing being. I paddled another few strokes and then rested my paddle against the tubes of my boat, wedging it in place with my Summit Pack. That poor Summit pack. It was supposed to be treated to majestic views from the top of mountains, and yet here it was, with a front-row view of what I was slowly realizing was a real heart. A heart that looked to be relatively fresh, pink, and healthy, as if it had recently been removed from a body. I found myself with goosebumps even though just minutes ago I had been sweating in the summer sun. What in the hell? Who would throw a heart into the Snoqualmie River?
Remembering that most human hearts are the size of a fist, I closed my hand around itself and compared it to the size of the heart floating next to me in the water. The heart looked too big to fit in my chest, however, I’m only 5’5. Might it fit in the chest of a large man? Well, yes. I told myself it could just as easily fit in the chest of a farm animal as well.
I paddled up to the next object, and after floating near it for a minute, I concluded it was a set of lungs. I could clearly see the trachea and the delicate feathers of the lung tissue. It was simultaneously fascinating and disgusting. I was never going swimming in the Snoqualmie River again.
I paddled up to the third and final object, and it was quickly apparent that they were entrails. They looked a bit too big to be human intestines, but really, what do I know about intestines? I’ve never gutted a mammal of any kind, human or otherwise.
At this point, I was starting to get a little freaked out. I decided to call 911 and at least give them a heads up.
“Hi. Um, I’m floating the Snoqualmie River, and I’m totally fine, but, um, I just witnessed someone throw a heart, lungs, and intestines from the riverbank into the water.”
“You witnessed what?”
“I saw these three things come sailing over the riverbank like someone had thrown them, and then I paddled up to them and they are, um, body parts.”
“Did you see the person who threw these items?”
Since I hadn’t actually laid eyes on a person, she couldn’t do much. I gave her my GPS coordinates, and she said she’d send someone out to investigate. There was no need for me to wait around. As I was wrapping up the call, she asked me if I could still see the organs. Yes, I had the heart in view.
And then out of the corner of my eye, a bald eagle came swooping down and snatched up the heart with his talons.
“Uh, no, the heart is no longer visible.”
I ended the call, stashed my phone back in my Summit Pack, and hurriedly paddled downstream, eager to get out of sight of the intestines and lungs that were still floating lazily down the river.
I never did find out the story behind the mysterious entrails in the Snoqualmie River. I actually kept quiet about the incident for a while, because I was genuinely concerned that I might’ve witnessed a crime and didn’t want to share that fact with anyone other than the police.
However, the police never called me back, and I never heard anything on the news, so I can only assume there was a perfectly good reason–or at least not a completely nefarious reason–that someone was throwing fresh body parts into a remote rural section of the Snoqualmie River on a quiet summer day. Right?
Jessica Kelly is an endurance athlete and coach, and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. A recipient of the 2018 Kyle Dempster Solo Award, her ambitious trips have been shared on many adventure-centric websites. Learn more here.