During the last two years, I fell in love with salmon. Not the way most people fall in love with salmon — poached, grilled, etc. (although I’ve been there, too). I fell in love with the magnificent creature that is spawned in a small, woodsy stream, navigates increasingly treacherous rivers to spend a few years at sea, and then finds its way back to its natal stream to die. Yes, I’m talking about a fish. But what a fish! Seriously, watch this PBS/Nature special, “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” which turned out to be one of the most-watched Nature specials ever (the full episode can be watched at that link).
And read “Grace Behind Glass,” a wonderful essay in High Country News, by Ana Maria Spagna. This part always gets me a little misty-eyed:
A digital ticker above the emergency exit lists the number of each species that passes through the dam. So far today the video monitor has counted 238 chinook, 242 steelhead, 28 sockeye, three lamprey. The miracle, I realize, is not just that the fish survive, but that they’re shepherded past this dangerous place. By biologists, engineers, activists, judges and ratepayers. We’ve made mistakes, God knows. No surprise there. The surprise is that, despite rancor and derision, despite terrorist protections and antiquated facilities, despite our ignorance, even, about why salmon runs swell or deplete, we can still, collectively, decide to spend $107 million to try to get juvenile fish downstream. Just so they can come back up. What hard-wired instinct is this? In a world of such weight and trouble, to care for a creature shorter than my shin.
Most people close to me expected me to write mostly about gorillas and chimpanzees when I tackled interspecies justice in my dissertation. But when it came down to picking a good animal to “think with,” it turned out to be fish, and I zeroed in on salmon. One of the carrots I dangled in front of myself through the long writing process is that I would start volunteering with SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) one or two Saturdays/month when I finished. Although I finished several months ago, I haven’t yet freed up the Saturdays – but I will! In the meantime, I will tell you that this organization does great work, protecting and restoring coho salmon habitat, and training citizens to do the same. And between now and December 31, your membership contributions will be matched and thus doubled. As I said in the last entry, I love a matching donation campaign.
(Almost forgot to mention: for some truly gorgeous salmon images, check out Todd Mintz’s incredible photos of a sockeye salmon run in British Columbia.)