A Longreads Member Exclusive: 
The Creature Beyond the Mountains

Members, you can download this Exclusive as an ebook—just scroll to the end of this email for the link and Member password. 

If you're not a Longreads Member,  join for just $3 per month to receive the full story and ebook.


This week, we're excited to share a Longreads Exclusive from Orion, a publication that has been featured on Longreads in the past, with pieces from Charles C. Mann, Belle Boggs and Sy Montgomery. 

"The Creature Beyond the Mountains," by Brian Doyle, is a story about the giant sturgeon in the Pacific Northwest—one, named Herman, weighs nearly 500 pounds—and about our relationship with them. Doyle is editor of Portland Magazine and writes frequently for Orion's print edition and blog. His piece won the John Burroughs Award and was listed as "Notable" by both Best Science and Nature Writing 2012 and Best American Essays 2012.

If you like this story, you can also subscribe to Orion and get a free trial issue

Share an excerpt from this Exclusive.

Like Longreads Member Exclusive: 'The Creature Beyond the Mountains' on Facebook

Submit a Story to Longreads
Readers, publishers and writers, we're looking for future Member Exclusives. Tell us about your favorite magazine story or book excerpt—or submit a piece you've written or published. 

You can subscribe to Longreads for just $3 a month or $30 a year.

The Creature Beyond the MountainsBy Brian Doyle | Orion | September 2011 | 13 minutes (3,250 words)

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

There are fish in the rivers of Cascadia that are bigger and heavier than the biggest bears. To haul these fish out of the Columbia River, men once used horses and oxen. These creatures are so enormous and so protected by bony armor that no one picks on them, so they grow to be more than a hundred years old, maybe two hundred years old; no one knows. Sometimes in winter they gather in immense roiling balls in the river, maybe for heat, maybe for town meetings, maybe for wild sex; no one knows. A ball of more than sixty thousand of them recently rolled up against the bottom of a dam in the Columbia, causing a nervous United States Army Corps of Engineers to send a small submarine down to check on the dam. They eat fish, clams, rocks, fishing reels, shoes, snails, beer bottles, lamprey, eggs, insects, fishing lures, cannonballs, cats, ducks, crabs, basketballs, squirrels, and many younger members of their species; essentially they eat whatever they want. People have fished for them using whole chickens as bait, with hooks the size of your hand. They like to follow motorboats, for reasons no one knows. As with human beings, the males wish to spawn in their early teens, but the females wait until their twenties. The females then produce epic rafts of eggs, 3 or 4 million at a time, from ovaries than can weigh more than two hundred pounds. On average three of those eggs will grow to be mature fish. Some of the fish that have been caught have been fifteen feet long and weighed fifteen hundred pounds. There are stories of fish more than twenty feet long and two thousand pounds. A fish that long would be taller than three Shaquille O'Neals and heavier than six. There is a persistent legend in southwest Washington State that somewhere in water near Mount Saint Helens is the biggest fish of this kind that anyone has ever seen or heard about or imagined, a fish so big that when it surfaces it is occasionally mistaken for a whale, but this is the same region of the wild and wondrous world where Sasquatch is thought to most likely live, so you wonder.
The being of which we speak is Acipenser transmontanus, the sturgeon beyond the mountains, popularly called the white sturgeon, although it is not white, but as gray as the moist lands in which it lives, the temperate rainforest west of the Pacific mountains and east of the not-very-pacific ocean. From northern Mexico to southern Alaska it cruises the nether reaches of rivers, battling only the sea lions that in recent years have taken up residence in the coastal rivers of the west to dine on salmon and young sturgeon, but I am sure there will come a day when I will pick up my newspaper and read about a precipitous decline in sea lion pups, and I will remember that a new lion pup is not much bigger than a chicken or a cat or a basketball. Taking the long view, you have to admire the individual sturgeon, very probably adolescent males, who over the years were the first to eat such things as cats and cannonballs. Perhaps it was accidental, but perhaps not, perhaps it was a brave leap, and among the sturgeon of today there are legends of the first heroes who inhaled volleyballs and badgers. This could be. 

Originally published in Orion, September 2011. (Subscribe to Orion.)

To read the rest of this story—and get more exclusives like this—become a Longreads Member. It's just $3 a month or $30 a year
You have received this because you have signed up for a paid Longreads Membership. Enjoy!

Manage your profile | Unsubscribe <<Email Address>> from this list.

Copyright (C) 2012 Longreads All rights reserved.

Forward this email to a friend