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takes closer look - in Redmond stream
Special to The Seattle Times
(reprinted here with permission)
Call me a salmon crank. I hate salmon. The taste is way
overrated; I'd rather eat halibut. As a journalist and a
citizen, salmon stories bore me - all that bureaucratic
wrangling and those endless public meetings. I'm sick of
hearing about them.
But I have this friend who's really into salmon. Adrienne
is a nature writer, and she writes beautiful essays about
all kinds of dull topics, including fish. I told her what
a colleague said about why he avoided salmon stories: "Swim
spawn swim spawn. Salmon do the same damn thing every year."
Adrienne got a pained look on her face.
That's how I end up spending a gorgeous autumn Saturday
- a perfect day for a remote hike in the mountains - driving
with Adrienne to the parking lot of a business along a busy
four-lane road in Redmond.
Avondale Road is a gross suburban stretch, with asphalt,
trailer parks and gas stations. But tucked along it are
blue signs with a picture of a fish and the words, "This
stream is in your care."
Classic Nursery and Landscape Co. has a trail with signs
identifying plants and trees and several viewing spots along
I can't believe what I see and feel.
Red. The fish are red. A muted autumn red, moving in dreaming
shadows. So much more strangely lovely than the plain silver
skin of a healthy ocean fish. In their death throes the
sockeye blossom into poisonous pink and fungal gray and
green. Their bodies refract into rubies under water.
And they're big - two feet long or more, thicker than my
arm. They seem so much bigger here, each one framed by the
narrow stream as they thrust and shimmy their way past rocks
and fallen branches. The males bulge with a hump, the females
are filled with thousands of eggs. Where the water is shallowest,
the roughness of their skin and corrosion of their fins
stand out in the air.
And they're vicious, raw with aggression. They thrash and
snap their jaws, exposing a white mouthful of fangs. Not
just the males, who fight off other males, but the females,
who ward off other females from their nesting sites.
Sixteen years in Seattle, and this is the first time I've
seen wild salmon. I've watched lions eating a giraffe in
Africa, but these ordinary salmon thrill me. Their primitive
beauty is so abrupt and stark that I get tears in my eyes.
The splashing of their urgent bodies makes a sharp, clear
sound against the backdrop of passing engines. Bear Creek
is not exactly National Geographic, but sockeye are very
real wildlife. All the more real because they're in an ugly,
I understand now what Adrienne told me about why she finds
these fish interesting enough to write about:
"Most nature writing has been about going far out from
the city . . . and protecting the last great places. But
it's important to understand nature is with us at all times.
It thrives even in places like this."
Imagine you're sick - dying, in fact. And very hungry.
You haven't eaten in days, maybe weeks. Your liver and kidneys
have shut down, and your body is slowly poisoning itself,
and parasites are taking over your skin.
But you are also full of hormones.
You are so driven that you will dodge big nets and maneuver
through the Ballard Locks, swim across Lake Washington and
battle up a stream that's sometimes too swift and too warm,
where dogs and raccoons wait to attack. When you find your
partner, you will deck anyone who even flirts with her.
Like you, all your children will be orphans.
I'm mesmerized by a salmon pair as they undulate side by
side, dancing in their bonding ritual. We love the wild
places because they are in all of us. Says Adrienne, who
drives out here twice a week during the three or four months
of spawning season to count sockeye and Chinook for the
county: "These fish have been around for 10,000 years, in
one form or another . . . They're filled with a very fierce
and very primal wildness.
"I want to protect them not just for environmental or biological
reasons, but to protect the human imagination."
Lisa Schnellinger is a free-lance writer and editor in
Seattle. Her e-mail address is Lisa@EditingInternational.com.
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