Monday, October 01, 2007

The Language of Salmon

On Saturday, D. and his wife scouted some of their familiar spots along the lower Elwha for chinook (king salmon) redds, and places where there were a few dozen at least of salmon digging and fighting and doing salmon behaviors. But Sunday, when they took us out to look, the river was at least three feet higher and as D. put it, 'had color'—it was slightly murky and you couldn't see into it. Polarized sunglasses helped at some angles, and we handed the glasses back and forth.

We couldn't see far enough into the river to see the redds, but we saw a few summer chinook (and at one spot, a sockeye, the shadow of a red torpedo disappearing-over-there). A spawned out female, her tail all beaten to shreds ('broomed out') from her digging effort held a position close to the bank, out of the current, occasionally sticking her nose up out of the water as if trying to get extra air. She was going to die soon, said D., and clearly the eagles in the trees were expecting carcasses. A couple of males cruised by, further out and barely visible through the slightly murky water. The salmon don't feed once they return from the sea; for however long they are in the rivers, they live on their body fat; they spawn; they die; they contribute their bodies as nutrients to the ecosystem. We walked, D. pointing out salmon I couldn't see out there somewhere, and beaver trails and eagles and particular trees, and talking all the time about salmon and rivers and his seventy or more years of knowledge of this place. When he stopped talking, we asked questions to get him going again.

But whether we could see them or not, there is not a good return of wild fish this year. D. does not agree with the ranger at the entrance station on the Sol Duc River that the absence of coho returning there has anything to do with low water; he says the wild stocks have returned exactly on schedule for tens of thousands of years, enough water or not, and that the fall coho are just not there in numbers this year, and not going to suddenly flow up the river if they haven't come already.

Rainshadow note: the weather forecast has been for a heavy storm and flooding. And yes it must have rained quite thoroughly up on top of the Olympics, and who knows what happened out on the rainforest coast, to have brought the Elwha up three feet overnight. But here, well, it sprinkled and drizzled and/or light-rained-steadily yesterday while we traipsed around, and through the night. But nothing to indicate a flood could be raised. Barely enough to move locals to put on a rain jacket.

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