Monday, October 13, 2008

Chum Salmon.

The interpreter was with fifteen grade four students on a bank high above a rushing stream, the final destination of the Chum Salmon. Maple leaves the size of shirt cardboards were drifting down to be carried away by the water.

The interpreter was feeling vulnerable.
Recently he had inadvertently inhaled a quantity of desiccated deermouse droppings, and was worried about anything resembling “flu-like symptoms.” The scratchy throat he woke up with this morning fell into that category.

Perhaps worse, but as expected, the younger and prettier interpreter, Stacey, had been promoted, and would no longer be available to drive him to the farther-flung parks--such as this one. This first day without her had been difficult: starting at first light, he had taken a train, two buses, and then walked a mile along a truck route.

“Let’s try a little further down, around the bend,” said the interpreter. He led the students downhill, to below a set of rapids.

“I see a fish!” a girl shouted.

“There’s another one!”

“And, gross, a dead one!” A boy pointed to a fish, belly-up, wedged into the root-ball of a toppled cedar.

“Yup, here they are,” said the interpreter. What was left of them.

The fish still alive were tattered, starved and desperate. They had swum past nets and over waterfalls and through slimy culverts where the water became a flume, and past the rotting dead of their cohorts-- half-eaten by crows and raccoons. Decades ago this streambed was a riot of passion and dying, with writhing fish from bank to bank. Now there were only an embarrassed few for the students and the interpreter to watch.

Midstream, a female was churning from side to side to create a redd, a place to deposit her eggs in the gravel. A male was fighting the current, waiting for her. He drew near, but she was not yet ready. The male succumbed to exhaustion and was swept downstream.

"He died!" the students cried, almost gleefully.

"But wait," said the interpreter. Indeed, the male found new strength and again fought the current, up to the female, but again she was not yet ready. He was swept away.

"He died!" the students cried.

"Keep watching," said the interpreter. It happened again--the valiant male fought back to the female, only to be swept away again. And then it happened again.

"He died! He died! " they cried.

“Be patient,” said the interpreter.

On the fifth try, the male was again swept away, far, far downstream, over a small waterfall and into the rapids below. His pale underside flashed in the torrent, and the fish was gone. The students looked to the interpreter.

The interpreter said, "Things are not going well."

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Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...


Camera Trap Codger said...

Ah yes, sometimes it's like a kids' play. Events just don't go by the script.

Karen said...

Just now reading this, since my kid's class is studying salmon this year. It's kind of unbelievable, this whole salmon reproductive process, that it has continued to perpetuate their existence despite so many challenges (even before we came along to make it infinitely harder). Always humbling to witness.