A fishy adventure:)

I might never have gotten into salmon except that for my old job, I spent a few falls teaching young adults all about them so that they could lead elementary school “Salmon Watch” field trips. Salmon biology, salmon life cycle, salmon habitat, water quality — all sorts of fun sciency things that we spent a lot of time learning, preparing, and teaching. Three consecutive falls, sometimes in the pouring rain, my crew and I spent days and days on the banks of (or sometimes in) rivers where the salmon return to spawn, year after year.

The first two years, it was Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge; the third year, Eagle Creek access was closed because of the fire in the Gorge, so we went, confusingly, to another Eagle Creek, in Estacada.

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(just a bunch of budding salmon biologists at Eagle Creek back in the day:)

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Since then, I haven’t been back to Eagle Creek, until a sweet little hike/run in the Gorge this weekend with an old friend reminded me that it was fall, and that the salmon were probably running, and that damn, I missed that fall ritual. So, late in the game (i.e. Sunday night;), I decided that with my Monday weekend, I would bike out to Eagle Creek to check on the salmon.

It’s like the fall version of my welcome-the-osprey ritual:)

I mostly had Monday free, except for an early evening appointment; with Eagle Creek being about an 80-mile round trip ride from my house, it made for an early morning to give me enough time to ride out there, back, and have some time to spend with the fishies. If they were in fact out there. That was the potential hazard: that I would ride all the way out there and find that there weren’t any salmon anyway. I ultimately decided that even if that was the case the ride would still be worth it, but with at least an 8-hour biking commitment for this adventure, that was definitely something I thought about.

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(this ride was worth it even without fish, though)

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Gosh, it felt good to be on my bike all day! I decided to take the #2 bus to Gresham Transit Center in the morning to save me about 20 minutes and 10 miles; we pulled into Gresham just as the sun was coming up, and riding from there felt just like my old commute to get to that salmon-teaching job (ha! I even biked right through the community college campus where my office was). I got to Women’s Forum in time for some fantastic sun-rising views of the Columbia River Gorge, and though it got less overtly sunny over the course of the day, it was fantastic biking weather: cool and dry. And it has been soooo long since I’ve ridden out in the Gorge. I’d kind of abandoned it because it gets so crazy trafficky in the summer or on weekends, but early on a Monday morning, it was a mellow, almost carless jaunt, totally perfect.

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(fall from Women’s Forum)

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I won’t write a blow-by-blow, but when I pulled up to Eagle Creek, I could smell that familiar rotting-fish smell, and before I even got to the water, I knew there’d be salmon. Sure enough: salmon everywhere, splashing around, the ladies flipping sideways and building their redds with their tails; the men chasing each other off and occasionally leaping out of the water; the spawned-out carcasses littering the bottom of the creek and the opposite bank, where they’re pulled out and eaten by bears. The sounds of Eagle Creek and splashing salmon were complemented by the singing American Dippers and the raucous calls of ravens, and it was exactly — exactly — what I was hoping for out of the day.

Like seeing the osprey return, the salmon homecoming has a kind of magic. These are fish who despite all odds have made it from their births in this very creek all the way out to the Pacific Ocean and back, navigating a million things that might eat or kill them (out of about 1,000 eggs laid per female salmon, only one or two — one or two!! — grow up to make it back to spawn themselves). The fish I was seeing, against all odds and with amazing navigation that we don’t even yet fully understand, had spent years in the Pacific Ocean, miles and miles away, and this fall finally made it back to the exact spot they were born to lay their own eggs. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

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(heh. Even if they look kind of awesomely gnarly after they die and rot on the banks;)

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(but look at all these fish! These were each about 2 feet long)

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I watched them for over an hour, heart swelling and close to tears that this cycle continues, that the salmon keep coming back, that this kind of magic still exists in the world. And finally, I had to turn back and book it home to make it to my appointment, which I made it to even with enough time to take a quick shower first:)

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(lovely, lovely riding on the historic highway)

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One last thought: this kind of adventure is exactly what I need more of in my life. It falls into the “adventure fit into the structure of normal life” kind of thing that is basically the lifeblood of stasia sanity — the kind of adventure where I can wake up in my own bed, spend a whole day out and about, and come back for dinner. Yes, I will still always want larger-scale adventure like my last bike trip too, and I will always want to sleep out in the woods, but these kinds of mini adventures infuse normal life with the wildness and freedom and joy that make me feel like myself.

Thanks to the salmon not only for their magic, but for reminding me of ways to make my soul sing.

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(and yay for my little bikey too:)

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