We walked over to the creek to see if the coho were there yet. Some years it’s a little earlier and some years later. We’ve seen them as late as New Year’s Day and as early as the beginning of December. Today, though? I think we were seeing the beginning of the run. There weren’t yet fish in the upper pools and there were lots just entering the creek from Sakinaw Lake where they’d been gathering until water levels were high enough in the creek. This couple was the first we saw:
And this beauty waiting for an opportunity to make the leap up a small ladder:
We’ve lived here since 1982 and it never gets old. The fish crowding into the pools, pairing up, the dippers on the logs, the mergansers waiting at the creek mouth for stray eggs to wash down, the eagles in the cedars, the lake beyond leading to the ocean, the young couple we were ourselves when we first walked here with our children, our deep pleasure at the returning coho.
One year I accompanied Angelica and her friend Gloria to this creek and two others when they were 15 and conducting an aquatic insect sampling for a science project. They wore hip-waders and dipped nets into the cold water — after the salmon had spawned, and taking care to avoid the area where the redds were — making an inventory of what they found. I felt privileged to be part of their work, helping them to identify various larvae. And when I walk down to the creek each winter, I am aware of them, their voices calling out in excitement as they examined leeches and caddis fly larvae.
This morning the lake was quiet and the only sound was an eagle beyond the point and the splashing of fish as they angled for position in the gravel beds.
There’s a beautiful Tsimshian potlatch song that I think of when I watch the fish at the end of a long journey, a journey that ends in both death and life. These are the final three lines:
I walk around where the water runs into whirlpools.
They talk quickly as if they are in a hurry.
The sky is turning over. They call me.
And every year, they do.