The sun glinted off the rushing waters as it peeked out from behind the morning rain clouds. We were in Goldstream Park to see the salmon run and it was turning out to be a beautiful day. Steps from the car we saw the first fish teeming in the stream. They looked suspended, not going anywhere, as they tried to fight upstream in the waters. The more hearty ones appeared to be surging forward. There were so many of them! Sometimes they flew over each other’s backs in the water, fins splashing outside, in order to try to get ahead in their quest. Then they would suddenly slip backwards, losing ground in the fast-moving flow and then regaining their composure to try to press on.
While the live salmon enraptured us, we couldn’t help but notice that the dead ones abounded. Still-life fish, as big as our arms, lay trapped in dams, on the beaches, and on the bottom of the streambed. As many salmon as there were struggling in the water, others had given up the ghost in various forms of repose. Some were flung over logs lying low in the water as though they’d flipped out of the wet for one last hurrah. Others simply lay on the bottom where exhaustion had finally got the better of them. Gulls stood in the stream, picking at the bodies, clearly enjoying this annual feast. We wondered why there weren’t more of them there because surely the pickings were excellent. Their stark white bodies were already starting to fatten up.
We felt lucky to see this ritual of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn. It was our first time witnessing the event. We stared intently into the waters, searching for movement underneath. Is that one? Where? Is he alive? I think so, his tail is moving. There are three there in a row. My goodness, look at them all.
The air was thick in some parts with the scent of decaying flesh. Bright green moss hugged tall trees like koala bears. Water dripped onto our heads from leaves above. Children pointed and squeaked their excitement. We knew that death lay just around the corner for those fighting salmon, but they didn’t. They struggled on, surging towards their goal. We caught their hopefulness and carried it with us as we left to go home.