Red, pinks, chums, springs. They are all congregating, with clarity in their mission to take their last breaths at the head of the watershed, up kilometers of jagged rocks punctuated by gentle sloping sandy beds, with smooth worn pebbles. Past felled trees, slid down the mountain from the winter snowfall. Ceremonial cedars and Sitka spruce and hemlocks, the bark making the water rich with tannins in the eddies, and dropped needles spiraling in the pools. Through rapids and water too dangerous to even wade in. Around the curve and back over the bend and up and up. Clarity in their home place. The place of their conception, birth, and death.
While they are clear, they are also confused. It’s warm, 2 degrees difference than last year, or the year before that, or the 4 years ago when their parents gave their lives on the banks, or the 14,000 years that we can trace their existence back, to the beach, the footprints found, the middens of shells and bones whispering, I was here, I lived, I dreamed of you. As the salmon shimmer under the inky black water, their bodies pure muscle that have been pumping and preparing for this season since they were old enough to swim back down down down to the open ocean. And yet, somehow, in the 3-knot current, they are still. Quiet. Patient. Generous. And I wonder:
What is the genealogy of a salmon?
In a creation story, the raven cast a shadow to create the world, and the people come are transformed from the killer whales. The salmon are the messengers, from stream to stream, tributary to tributary. Carrying life, elements, nutrients with their dying bodies, into the soil and up the trees. For the trees to grow and give the people the air they need to live. And the circle is whole.
We keep moving through the territory. The petroglyph is around the corner in a narrow channel but high up, so high up on a sheer limestone wall. Shades of red and pink. Like the salmon. Sketched with the rocks, minerals, berries, and iron-rich blood of the artist. The drawing on the cliff by all guesses is at least several hundred years old, pre contact. Perched in such an inaccessible way, it has not yet been aged. And it was not burned by the Indian Agent. Or the Roman Catholic Church and its missionaries. If people have been here 14,000 years, that’s 700 generations. The painting – outlines of copper shields, canoes, eagles, and salmon. Maybe it indicates a burial ground where an important chief was laid to rest in a bentwood cedar box. Maybe it tells the story of a battle, or a peace treaty, or of a rich fishing ground, or of survival. Maybe it tells all the stories that have ever been told?
What is light?
And what is darkness? The absence of light.
What is life without salmon?
What is death? The absence of life without salmon.