SALMON WATERSHEDS LAB
Ecology & Conservation of Aquatic Systems
Jonathan Moore and Team
Tales from a Dying Salmon
December 6, 2017
By Luke Andersson
I was taken aback as a flash of wisdom behind her gaze registered in my mind. I sensed she had a story to tell, if only I would listen. This salmon looked like she had seen better days; she struggled to hold her spot in the flowing river, gasping often and laboriously.
I paused, stunned. We held eye contact and suddenly I became lost in the depth of her experience and primal wisdom as she entered my stream of thoughts and patiently conveyed her tale.
Her first memories were those of effortless comfort and safety. As she grew strong in a protected world, she had few thoughts and basked in the comfort of her secure home.
This existence continued for a time; until the day she was inspired to stretch, wiggle, squirm and squiggle. Without warning, she burst forth from the egg shell and swam free into a previously unknown and incomprehensibly vast, new world. Here, she lay in the gravel and snacked on her lunch sack. It was now that she realized she was but one among countless brothers and sisters. One atom in the universe of atoms, subject to its laws and yet simultaneously enforcing them with her own existence.
Many days had passed. It was hard to keep track. She was larger now, more agile, more light-finned. She swam and danced in the glides and riffles, and rested in the pools under the shadow of her tangled wooden home in a side channel. Food was plenty, her medium was fresh and cool and she was delighted often…
An itch. An urge to leave this place. This is how it began. Before she could define the feeling, she found herself migrating on a long journey into the unknown. As she ventured cautiously, she grew nervous, the taste of the water had changed now. A certain palatable tinge that she couldn’t describe but equally couldn’t resist. Brothers and sisters remained beside her and this gave her strength. On this brackish boundary she remained for some time…
She was large now. Royalty in this salty realm. She had fed well, swam far and played often. It wasn’t all easy though; she had witnessed others being gobbled up by large sea creatures. “Safety in numbers” she thought; and counted herself as a lucky one.
She had escaped large, white webs that pulled her brothers and sisters out of this dimension and onto the strange black shadows that loomed above. The shadow left an odd, unpleasant taste in the water and she anxiously avoided it…
But now was different; now she tasted home, and she was drawn to it. She had been travelling so long and the sensation was so mild at first, she couldn’t even place it. But she followed it.
She was almost there. She bounded with fiery energy up rushing rivers. She leapt passed great snarling jaws and exploded up waterfalls, temporarily leaping into an unknown, breathless dimension above the ceiling of her world in order to gain ground. She slid under tangled logs and she surfed across vast shallow riffles like a torpedo of muscle fueled by a lifetime of marine feasts. She no longer felt hungry, she no longer had any needs. Except one. Home. She would reach the spot where she called home.
The gravels and jammed logs looked different, almost as if they had moved somehow in her absence. But the taste remained the same and she knew she had reached her home. Though exhausted, bruised and battered, she tirelessly worked to dig a nest for her progeny. She remembered what it was like to live within the gravel, when she was just a speck. How safe it felt. She wanted her offspring to experience that sensation, to be protected. She released. Beside her, a male salmon companion did the same as she furiously dug into the gravel to bury and protect their efforts. Their mission complete, she was at peace; she released her grip on life.
Though fading quickly, she did not dread. Many times, she had witnessed summer wearing to autumn and day turning to night. She understood that as much as we may wish it otherwise, in a world set within time, there can be no beginning without an end.
And that was her last thought before her ending created space for something new to begin.
She gasped once more. And then did not gasp again.
I sat up on the riverbank. Dazed. I stood slowly. And, changed forever, I moved on.