New Years Day – Salmon Style

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The best part is that I perceived the event with something other than my eyes.  Just as folks in the upper Nehalem have for thousands of years before us, we’d been watching and waiting.  Would they return? If so, when?  With the creek’s flow at near record lows, our hopes we’re high.  While doing maintenance on the creek spanning bridge, we were occupied with other matters.

Suddenly, while fitting a new piece of wood into the bridge, my senses were yanked back to the creek.  My ears told me that something had changed about the steady sound of the creek.  Triggered by the new sound, my eyes shot to the riffle upstream of the bridge – just in time to see the cause of the new sounds.  Half of the coho’s red back stood above the shallow water as it powerfully climbed from one pool – up the riffle – and into the next.  First fish – New Years Day.  In this crazy world this is something worth counting on – the coho’s return to Lousignont Creek.

Dropping our tools, we hurried to follow the focused fish upstream.  Keeping a respectful distance, we were hard pressed to match its pace – through pools, climbing riffles, threading through log jams.  One half a mile above the bridge, the pace of leader and followers slowed and stopped; had it found what it was after?  With short breath from our upstream pursuit, we watched, through the clearest of water, as the female used her powerful tail to excavate her nest – or redd.  Once satisfied, she deposited her eggs and moved aside to allow our newly arrived male to spread his fertilizing milt.  With the fertilized eggs safely buried beneath a layer of gravel  – securely growing below the winter floods that will surely come – our successful pair seemed to rest.

Experience teaches us that the odds are high that we’ll encounter these globe crossing travelers again.  Perhaps it will be when we spot their neatly linked vertebrae emerging from rain-washed coyote poop a mile from the creek’s banks.  Recent discoveries teach us how these ocean wanderers pump valuable nutrients into all dimensions of the forest’s living web.

What best marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next?  The falling of the ball in Times Square? Swapping out the old wall calendar for the new? Struggling to get that final digit on the check’s date correct?   I don’t think so.  Given the choice – and I am – I go for the ancient thrill of sensing the salmon’s return to home waters – knowing that way leads on to way and that the work of one generation is feeding life into the next.  Happy New Years!

Each year we will be watching, listing, and waiting for their return; will you come too?