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Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Salmon of Wisdom Are Spawning


The salmon are spawning now. You may not be able to see them in the photograph above, taken at Sheep Creek, but the water is alive with the fins of many salmon who have swum in from the sea into all of the creeks around Juneau, into the waters where they were born, in order to spawn. And once they have spawned, they will die. I know it is anthropomorphizing them, but it seems like such a tragic heroic quest. They travel so far, and at the end of their journey, after leaving their eggs and milt in the gravel beds of streams, they die, sacrificing themselves, never seeing their progeny, who hatch later. They have done this for thousands of years. And these valiant fish (OK, I cannot stop with the human characteristics) feed us all. And by all, I mean eagles, bears, gulls, seals, sea lions, wolves and of course, people. The actual list of creatures nourished is much longer. The salmon are the pinnacle of an upside down pyramid with all of the rest of us who eat them spread at the top. A fabulous new book about salmon and the ecosystem of Alaska is Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest by Amy Gulick. Even the trees "eat" the salmon when the nutrients from their bodies become part of the soil.

I don't think the salmon in the photograph below made it on their quest. They died trying. This too is sad. The gulls have eaten their eyes and left the rest for others. But, like everything else in the universe, nothing from their bodies will be wasted.

Every year at this time, the salmon return to us from the sea to feed us, all of us. In Irish mythology, they are called the Salmon of Wisdom, and to eat of the salmon is to gain knowledge. I think the knowledge we gain when we eat salmon is that we are part of a wondrous cycle of life that gives to each what is needed at the right time and that our role is to give to others when our time comes.

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