Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Return to the River

In Roderick L. Haig-Brown's classic book Return to the River the author describes the journey of the Pacific fall chinook salmon to the rivers of their origin.This book tells the saga of the arduous journey these fish endure and have endured for countless generations. Those of us that live in the Pacific Northwest and wander the rivers of this region have the privilege of seeing this ritual of nature every fall. The notion that these fish can travel from their beginnings as a tiny inch long frye just out of gravel, avoiding predators of all varieties to make their way to the ocean is mind boggling. To actually see them return to that very same spot on their fateful journey to fulfill their one purpose in life, to pro-create, thus insuring the continuation of the species is hard to grasp.
How these magnificent fish can smell their river of birth cannot be explained or at least explained in terms that a person like myself can fully understand.It is a wonder that plays itself out over and over each fall.
Autumn is a time of change and movement. The fall leaves paint the skyline with bursts of color that cannot be described adequately... blazing hues of change for sure.
The air is filled with migratory waterfowl on their way to warmer southern climes. Autumn is truly a magical time of year. The last of the indian summer days pass far too quickly as the threat of the winter ahead hints of cold to come at the same time the remembrance of the summer just past lingers also.
I will stand and watch in awe as the ritual of the salmon is played out before me in the fine gravel of a coastal river.
I've said before it is like watching a finely choreographed ballet. The males of the species anxious to "service" a solitary female. The beaten and savaged warriors bear the scars as they battle each other for the right to cover the females eggs with their milt.
When their purpose is met and their last ounce of energy expended they meet their inevitable fate which is death. Their decomposing bodies providing nutrients for the generation that follows. The cycle is thus played out on thousands of rivers and small tributary creeks throughout the northwest.
If you have never witnessed this then you are truly missing out on a miracle of nature.
It's so unfortunate that these salmon have become what amounts to being a political pawn because they stand for so much more. The native tribes of the Pacific coast knew the importance of salmon and still do.
As long as I am able I will always return to the river but not to try to deceive these fish with hook and line but to appreciate and marvel at what they do to perpetuate their kind. I sincerely hope that this fall ritual continues long after I am gone and I can go to my rest with the satisfaction of knowing that I did all I could to help them along the way in their journey of death and ultimately life.

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