“Long ago, a salmon’s soul and heart combined with an ancient tenacity to produce offspring, a will which was enough to propel hooked jaw kings to their place of emergence, their place of rest.” Unknown writer
October is a transitional month in the Pacific Northwest. The summer’s unfettered sun becomes obscured by the familiar immersion of life-giving moisture. As we are creatures of the land, we key in on water interacting with hard surfaces: the rain pelting our homes, dripping from trees onto pavement and inexorably finding a way to saturate our very breath.
Because water will not be denied its traditional channels, the greatest blessing of October’s rains comes from the transformation of tiny rivulets swelling to full-bodied rivers. Like blossoms which cannot resist the urge to bloom during lengthening spring days, swollen waters trigger the imperative immigration of fish, and the rivers churn with pulsating fins.
Salmon and October met me this past week on Oregon’s Eagle Creek, just upstream from the Columbia River. Embracing the coho and Chinook salmon were gin clear, cold water, a proper mix of riffles and pools, excellent spawning gravels, and sheltering shade form trees on the bank, truly intact habitat conditions.
Against all odds, the salmon appear in Eagle Creek utilizing their phenomenal sense of smell and an equally worthy sense of place. When they turn their fins away from the sea and re-enter the Columbia River, the fish cease feeding and a number of physiological changes occur in preparation for spawning.
The salmon return to Eagle Creek solely to breed and die. Visually, the spawning activity resembles a highly-charged dance, yet while no one comes to the creek to watch the fish disintegrate, the thrashing of fins and the laying of eggs are only part of the eternal ritual. As the water has given life to the Chinook, the salmon’s death now literally brings biotic resurrection to the river.
Return to Eagle Creek on a misty November day and one will notice a stillness to the waters. These breeding grounds are silent but not vacant. Like rock cairns marking the wilderness trail, contorted bony hulls mark the path of the symbol of the Pacific Northwest. The fertile remains of the salmon, like tiny seeds, have been scattered, some becoming the wings of an eagle, the flesh of a crab, or even the peeling bark of a cedar. ~