Of Wolf and Salmon

Going straight to the past, I share with you, today, more from my journal written during the Spirit Bear Pilgrimage in 2002. Today, that past, seems completely present, as it probably is, still occurring there as it always has in that non-humanized neck of the wood.

On the fourth day, it clears up and five of us kayak in the estuary.  A thrill to sit down near the water with the potential of seeing wildlife closeup on the bank.  And we nearly do have an encounter.  Soon after starting to paddle, I feel a tremendous pull to go up a tidal channel. Logs have fallen across it, the water is about to drain back to sea, there is a bend ahead with brooding forest beyond, but I start paddling in that direction anyway. This IS the adventure of my lifetime, isn’t it? But I would feel much safer if someone else were following me, so I turn to look. Susan’s right behind me. She’s feeling the pull too.

So there I am eagerly paddling into the unknown around the bend when suddenly, inexplicably a salmon comes swimming fast down stream. Being so close to the water my “fear factor” bolts for my throat. The salmon is big, coming straight for me. It could slam into my kayak, hurl itself over the side, all slimy and wriggly, get trapped in my lap. Before I can even scream, I look again at the oncoming fish and do a double take. The salmon has no head! Like a recently slaughtered chicken running around the barnyard, the salmon is still swimming and passes just before my bow.  My belly knows we have just missed seeing a wolf snatch it.

How do I know we’ve missed a wolf? Wolves love the heads and brains of salmon.  Most of the time that’s all they eat.  Bears prefer eating the bulk of the body often leaving the head behind. Other scavengers, like coyotes and birds, clean up the bones.  All of this activity spreads the nitrogen rich nutrients from the salmon all over the place so that the insects, fungi, and microbes decompose what remains.  This fertilizes the soil with minerals and compounds from the planet’s other hemisphere. Imagine that richness! All of this supports the growth of the crabapple trees, grasses, berry bushes, and sedges, keeping the soil intact, shading the streams to maintain life-friendly temperatures, regulating the flow so the salmon can spawn and return, thus  keeping the whole planetary life cycle going. Nothing is out of place or unnecessary. Everything interacts with everything else.  This perfection – this intricate interdependency – hits me bone deep.  I can’t stop grinning with awe at the same time humility shakes my core.

This complexity sustains itself without me.

How’s that for something to ponder today? And another reason I care about salmon’s continued life on this earth.


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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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