by Mary M

Just when I thought Salmon were cooked…that is committed to a slow languorous decline, the story twists and turns and takes a new direction.

Along the Fraser River in British Columbia, inexplicable numbers of wild sockeye salmon are returning home to spawn. Twenty-five million are estimated.

Why now? Why the largest return since 1913—in almost 100 years?

The marine biologists don’t seem to know.

Native elders have an idea.

They are suggesting that salmon are a lot like trees or plants or even humans, and that in times of stress when the window of life appears to be closing, they stretch themselves, call forth what creative strength there is within them and give birth . . . they spew forth seeds. . . they thrust forth life so as not to vanish from the Earth.

A friend reminds that these extraordinary numbers of salmon are hopeful, a signal of new life, the seeding of the waters of home for future generations.

I hope so.

Throughout the U.S. and Canada at the time the salmon return there are festivals that call forth our ancient memories–the cycles of birth, growth, and homecoming kept in the company of each other, both fish and human. In the long ago time, the elders welcomed the fish, because the fish meant life; their sacrifice meant life for the People. And so the salmon were greeted, and they were sung to, and they were captured respectfully, usually with prayer.

What would life be like for all of us if they were greeted this way now? . . . If our elders (themselves fully honored for their wisdom) stood on the banks of the Fraser singing welcome to these muscled sturdy fish returning home, women all of them, carrying in them the seeds of new life.

We have journeyed far from those times. There are so many of us now, so many who expect salmon on our plates as our right and who scarcely remember to express gratitude.

I am thinking, as I do with all wild beings, of how many industries the salmon uphold on their backs: the fishermen who catch them; the seafood distributors, truckers, airlines, grocery stores, and restaurants that disburse them; even the biologists who say how many can be caught, and environmental organizations who fight for their access to the waters of home . . . and this is only a partial list. Would it not be right to give thanks that wild salmon still walk with us before we take and eat? In the act of honoring might be the taste of redemption.

Is there hope for wild salmon in this ever-changing world? And is there hope for us, for the descendants of the humans who once, with gratitude and celebration welcomed the salmon home, and ate selectively? What does sacrifice mean in this context?

A friend of mine who knows how to pray once assisted in stream clean-up along a salmon tributary. He also made his prayers that the land and water again would receive these Salmon People. When he returned the following day to pray at sunrise, his back to the water, he heard a tremendous thrashing. With little water in the stream a huge female coho still pushed up the little stream, hurrying home.

So, I asked him, when I heard this story, if we couldn’t just pray and by our prayers request that the salmon to return to us.

We can pray, he reminded, but we also have to work. What good would it do these beings if we drew them back and they had no home to come to?

This may be a lesson for us all, one of our deepest lessons that salmon have to teach. Wild salmon call for sacrifice as significant as those they make. They require us to greet them, to honor them, and with our hands and hearts make a place for them.

I wonder if the true salmon, the salmon of our forefathers, will be able to wait around for that.

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