Friday, October 31, 2008

The Return of the Coho

Each year, in the Fall, I am witness to a spectacle that always fills me with a sense of awe. It is the return of the salmon.

True, there are species that return throughout the year. In the spring it is the Chinook who ply their way up the Columbia and into the various tributaries, all the way into Idaho. In the summer and in the winter it is the Steelhead run, but for some reason it is the Coho that I happen to see, perhaps because it happens when the leaves turn and create that other wonderful spectacle of colors and textures or the trees.

Such was the case one weekend in late October, when we stopped at Eagle Creek, near Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The stream was filled with salmon, the females clearing the rocks for laying the eggs while the males wait close by to complete the process. All around were groups waiting for the right time, while interspersed were the remains of those who had completed the cycle.
I ponder that cycle of life and death, and the promise of new life laying among the pebbles and gravel of the stream bottom. The eggs will hatch later and after a period of time the fry will become smolts and swim downstream to the ocean. There the Coho will grow into beautiful silver bullets darting throughout the ocean and live for several years...until a primordial urge suddenly draws them back to the same stream at which they were the same patch of gravel.
In the journey from seawater to fresh river water, the color changes from silver to a dark, mottled red. Some have white spots of fungus on their fins and tails. Perhaps they know they will die...they can feel it inside them as they battle currents, rapids, waterfalls, predators such as sea lions and bears who feast on the migration and depend on the oil and fat for their own survival...
..and yet they push on to that gravel patch, where I stand and witness the culmination of their life.
...and the beginning of the next.


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