A pair of high-stakes journeys along Montana’s beautiful, deeply endangered Smith River crisscross repeatedly without ever quite converging.
Clint McCaine, a local who’s joined forces with the Hard Rock Heaven Mining Cooperative, is helping plan a copper mine near the storied Smith River. His childhood friend Bart Trueblood is doing everything he can to oppose the mine, whose operation he’s convinced will foul the river. The two of them agree to take a boat trip along the river accompanied by documentary filmmaker Lillian Cartwright, who’ll record their every disagreement, and watercolorist/fisherman/guide/private eye Sean Stranahan (Cold Hearted River, 2017), who’ll keep the peace. “It’s Eden, Cain and Abel, Genesis,” Bart tells Sean of his long-festering rivalry with Clint. Nor is this enough conflict for McCafferty, not by a long shot. Blackfeet state investigator Harold Little Feather’s boss, Fitz Carpenter, has sent him to the same river to stop the God of Scarecrows, the unknown who’s desecrated the river by erecting a series of scarecrows, nine so far, along its banks. Imagining a job that’s more like a vacation, Harold invites Marcus Stands Like a Heron, the 17-year-old son he’s only recently learned about, to accompany him on the trip. The deeper into the wilderness the two parties penetrate, the less their trips seem like vacations and the more they seem like a return to the landscape of Deliverance, complete with a determined couple of bear poachers and a headless corpse. There are so many possibilities for fireworks, several of which pay off, that it’s easy to forget that the regional parks director has shut the river down to visitors who aren’t actively engaged in detecting or promoting felonies.
The river’s so crowded, in fact, that it’s a miracle that there’s only a single death in Eden. This is one of those eventful journeys that’s a lot more satisfying than its conclusion.