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  • Writer's pictureTimothy S. Colman

Salmon running. A prose poem I wrote 20 years ago

Mid October. 2000

We are in the sea breezy shower season that converges with the earth's turn away from summer for good. The autumnal romance with 75 degree days is behind us now.

We live in the gray trough of light and sprinkles that grows big trees, salmon, and orcas. My daughter and I are going with her class field trip today to visit a park across town that has a salmon run moving through it.

Big bright red fish are running upstream now through the first week of November. Their passage marks this time of year as surely as pumpkins, witches and goblins.

The salmon come back each year ( the runs that are left, anyway) and we witness the sublime mystery of life, death and renewal.

This year is a bigger run than many have seen in a while.

Why do we connect with the salmon so?

Perhaps it is a talisman for us, emblematic of our own eventual return. (And because when they return, we like to eat them. ;)

Maybe it is recognition of our own fragile path in the world.

Perhaps we long to run like the salmon -- and their anadramous return from the sea to the river that spawned them.

Maybe it is witnessing the pounding and flesh ripping effort up rapids, rocks and culverted creeks just to get home.

Maybe it is because we don't know how they swim their thick, battered bodies to the same cedar-shrouded gravel stream bed their ancestors have been swimming back to for the past 10,000 years.

I like to submerge into this fall spectacle. I say submerge because for a few moments I am not "watching" the salmon run. I am salmon running. I smell cedar sap, red alder, and yellow birch in fast waters.

I see the bed I was born in and run hard -- up against time and my own mortality.

I spawn, and as I die, my eyes glazing, body spent; floating sideways down stream...I try to imagine the "nothing" that appears to be death...and cannot.

As I emerge from my salmonic convergence, I drink branch water a friend makes soaking fresh, sappy red cedar branches in cold Cedar River water, and laugh about it.

It is a long way, after all, from home -- to where we are today.

We have the chronological story to anchor us -- (born in Philly, raised in Detroit, fledged to Denver, gave birth to family in Seattle...) but there is a deeper contrapuntal song heard,too, if we listen.

Autumn's darkness pulls us inward, quieting us, as the gray and damp quiets the leaf covered earth. I take comfort in, and are humbled by this season. In the face of so much turmoil, chaos, and change around us, I am thankful for the salmon running home.

I take it as an article of my faith that we will not decode the mystery of the salmon running home in our lifetimes, and I am grateful for this enduring gift.


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