Together Against the Current
By Kirsten Bradford
Brought to life by days of heavy rain, the stream tumbles downhill, pulling whispers of cool, misty air into its watercourse. My bright red, tensed fingers grip tightly to the end of a measuring tape as I emerge, battling the current, from the upstream end of the culvert. I steady my footing and yell the number on the measuring tape down to my teammate at the other end of the embedded pipe. We have learned over the last weeks that sound travels as swiftly as the current down the culvert, with no hope of return communication.
In the few moments while I wait for my teammate to join me upstream, I feel like I am completely alone. I breathe in the misty clouds and feel the rain pelting on my rain jacket that is valiantly failing to keep me dry. In this aloneness, I think only about my body and my footing as I navigate to ground more even upstream. How easy is it for us as scientists, as humans, to focus on one thing and forget to look up. It is in this moment of aloneness, of focusing on only my feet in the streambed, that I realize I am not the only one navigating this current.
Spawning salmon are joining me in this dance upstream. As my feet hit the stream bed, their colorful bodies flash and flicker past me. I am not alone here. I am surrounded by creatures whose powerful bodies that have travelled thousands of miles back to their home streams. I am not alone here. I am surrounded by creatures whose ear bones tell stories of where they have been. I am not alone here. I am surrounded by creatures who continue to return, dedicated in their homecoming, despite cumulative pressures humans are imposing on their various life stages.
I am not alone here. I am with the creature whose life journey has underpinned my understanding of this place since I was a young child. It is my own homecoming every time I catch a glimpse of their colorful, powerful bodies. A homecoming that draws out an uninhibited sense of wonder, an understanding of life’s cycles, and the creation of trust.
But how can I trust salmon to return when their fresh homes continue to be degraded by human activities. I often wonder, how can we best care for salmon streams? I think a lot about relationships between people and salmon, it is what has led me to be clamoring out of an embedded pipe in torrential rainfall in Secwepemc territory. Working with the Simpcw Resources Group and the Secwepemc Fisheries Commission, we are assessing culverts in the Northern Thompson Region to understand the extent that culverts block upstream habitat for spawning salmon. Once the culverts are assessed, restoration decisions about how to care for salmon streams can be made by the Nations.
Stream restoration work is one way I connect back to salmon and their freshwater homes. Together against the current, I am reminded of the fullness of place, and how relationships draw lines between time and space and connect us back to ourselves.