Salmon, Autumn and a Return to the Wild

A small, hopeful group is gathered here in anticipation of the event. Indian summer, and we’re poised over the impossibly picturesque mountain stream, cascading and rivuleting and pirouetting downhill.

Each of us has our own opinion about what we’re waiting for. All we know is that it’s called a Salmon Release, and each of us has a vague idea about what that means. And it’s an hour late.

We’re miles from a highway and a mile from a paved road. So the sleek aluminum truck that appears, carrying a large tank, surprises us. It’s the kind of rig that usually wears the imprint of a local dairy, full of milk ready for processing.

This cargo isn’t getting ready for the market. It’s going the opposite direction: back to the wild.

Until about the last hundred years, the migration of the salmon upstream to spawn was as inevitable as the shortened days and slanted light of autumn. But numerous dams throughout the Northwest have severely thwarted their ability, despite their enormous drive, to return to the shallow pools where they first came into being.

Around fifty large fish, ready to spawn, swim in the water of the tanker. They’ve been shuttled upstream from a fish hatchery on the other side of the dam, where they have grown to adults-who-are-ready-to spawn in the protected waters. A giant hose is attached to the truck, a flip is switched, and a flood of water and fish come pouring out. They turn flip-flops as they hit the stream.

As they come gleaming into the water they dance and breach and swim a water ballet around each other.

Each of them are deeply programmed to swim against the rapidly flowing creek, over boulders and curves, to seek out the right shallow pool. As they following this destiny, they also bring their essence back to the ecosystem. Their offspring began their six year round trip, one which now includes being shuttled past the dam going downstream and leads a thousand miles to Alaska and back.

Many of us who watch are moved to tears. Each of us is stirred by our own deep and particular understanding of the meaning of things. Words just won’t cut it.

But writing helps me land the feeling. The ecological importance resonates with my personal evolution. It speaks of the power of swimming upstream against boulders, obstacles, and the odds. I reflect on all the times I’ve questioned my early conditioning and my social roles to find a voice that is truer and deeper within. It reminds me of the necessary return to what is essential and true in my own wild nature. It reminds me that sometimes I’ve needed to be carried by my family, my tribe, my elders, and the universe itself.  Then, when I’m restored and ready, I can take on the next step.  And I remember once again with gratitude that, although the journey is sometimes tumultuous, I don’t have to do it alone.

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