To Be or Not

Salmon, salmon, salmon. Where are they? Out in the Sound, how many struggle to find their way home to these tiny creeks?

We’ve had rain in the past week. The stream bed flows with more water and a faster current. The surge may not last long, but today there are new tributaries overflowing the banks, shining waterfalls and sun shafts in mist since the water is warmer than the air.

We find a dead one, today. A big deal actually since we haven’t seen any signs of fish in the creek. Eleanor, our team leader, has given me the clip board and pencil to record the facts. She’s ahead of me on the trail and comes running back to find me, her face alight with excitement. She’s stumbled on a headless body. Shimmering silver lies smack dab in the middle of the trail. As we investigate it, we realize we need our “kit.” Eleanor runs back to the car to get it. So convinced are we that we won’t see any salmon that we haven’t brought the tape measure, the knife, the plastic bags, or the most important item…the identifier…Six fish pictures are laminated on stiff cardstock, three on each side. We flip back and forth, thinking that surely this will be a Chum, since that is more common. After thorough scrutiny we are convinced we have a wild, female, adult Coho salmon in our hands, literally. What a miracle.

We ruminate on who took the head. If we were in wilder territory, I’d think wolf. Here we consider coyote, raccoon, weasel or mink. I don’t think it’s our dog friend, who finds us again today and travels with us the whole time. She sniffs the fish but seems uninterested in mouthing it.

We cut off the tail. Yup that’s one of the uses for the knife. Reason? When we come to monitor again, this fish might still be around but dragged to another spot. By cutting off the tail, we’ll recognize that carcass as one we’ve already counted.

We study the adipose fin at length. Those fins are cut off hatchery fish. Though the tip is either bitten or rubbed off, this salmon appears to have the adipose fin intact. That’s why we surmise this is a wild Coho.

As we continue along the trail, an anomaly catches my eye. Something light in color floats about eight inches under the water’s surface…almost resting on the bottom. oh my golly, it’s the head! There it is, intact but for the end of the nose which has been nibbled.

We’re both so excited about the possibility of salmon returning, that we wish we had time to monitor every day.

I take a number of photos during this session. We begin early today – air is brisk and water warm…mist rises as does the sun. Shafts of light drift through the forest and I snap a photo. When I download it into my computer, here’s what I see.

Do you see what I see?

I swear I see four salmon in the lower right corner in the dark water there. Right at my feet when I took the photo. I am so focused on looking up and out, I don’t see what’s below and close in.

Or maybe those salmon are an illusion, induced by my yearning for their abundant return. Maybe. I’ll let you know.

I’ll let you know.

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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2 Responses to To Be or Not

  1. PJ says:

    I SEE THEM~ oh how exciting.. wish I was there with you…
    LOVE following your blog and your adventures there… YOU are so at HOME.
    love you


    • Deborah says:

      More news to come after monitoring today, PJ. I did go back the next morning and those FISH were not there, so I’m sure they WERE fish and I remembered how I missed them, too. My colleague came to get me, as described above, and I never returned to the bank to scan the stream where I took the photo before surveying the water! Big lesson – don’t leave tasks unfinished!


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