Last week, no salmon. And since then, it’s rained almost every day, torrential rain with huge wet winds. This morning the sky cleared and there’s sun, though its passage is very low this time of year, moving towards the longest night. When we neared the creek, I heard an eagle. But no sign of it in the huge cedars along the creek.
First we saw a quick little jack, the precocious males who come into the spawning creeks a year earlier than the others of their cohort. They’re darker and they don’t have the kype that mature coho have — the hooked snout and large teeth. They don’t have the beautiful colouring either. In mature spawning coho, the bodies are dark green with burgundy sides and rosy bellies. The way they move through the fast water is lovely; they undulate and find their way against the current.
This pair were hovering under an overhanging log and I think the female was excavating a redd — at one point she was on her side, flexing, and then she slapped her tail.
I hope there will still be salmon in the creek when some of my family return home just before Christmas. Walking over in sunlight or in rain has been part of our season for as long as we’ve lived here. As the days get shorter, we need the promise of new life, of light, the solace of those cycles which have gone on among the genus Oncorhynchus for at least a million years, moving from its freshwater salmon ancestors (similar to genus Salmo) west, to the Pacific ocean, and north over the Bering landbridge to eastern Asia. Imagine that. And imagine how precarious their status now that we’ve figured out as a species how to dam rivers, damage habitat in every way possible (toxins, effluents, clearcutting the riparian zone which is necessary for water temperature, bank stabilization, moisture absorbtion, high-scale water removal for agriculture and other applications). The cynics among us believe that fish-farming which take care of the human desire for marine protein in our diets. The fatalists think we are probably all doomed anyway.
I’m not a cynic, nor a fatalist. A witness maybe. A praise-singer — one of my earliest published poems, written when I was 19, was called “River Blessing”; it ends this way:
The silver thread of her is fertile:
I have seen dark otters ride her shape,
seen rain exhaust itself inside her.
I shall sing over her
the chilly vowels of this blessing:
Blessed be her, she grows Coho
seeds them, roots them, gathers them back