The Rebirth of the Salmon People

The smell of rotting fish seeped into the truck even before I’d parked. The river was packed with dead fish and blanketed with an endless stream of gulls looking for an easy meal. The salmon run was Salmon Run in British Columbia, full flow and there were none of the romantic and heroic signs of brave fish leaping waterfalls, instead it was a Piscean graveyard reminiscent of images of a WW1 battlefield. Anyone would be forgiven for believing that there was no visual grace here, just decaying, eyeless bodies being stepped on, pecked at or simply ignored with an indifference that transcended callousness. But in death is renewal. An old pact was being played out on a majestic scale. The park warden knew that when she explained carefully to a group of tiny children from a local school that the dead salmon should be respected every bit as much as the living. She might have been drawing on an ancient myth. According to a Coast Salish legend the salmon are really people in a different form. The Salmon People live beneath the sea in villages just as people from the land, except that they have the ability to turn into salmon. A long time ago there was an agreement between the Salmon People and the Squamish People of the Pacific North West that salmon would enter the Squamish rivers only so long as all the bones of the fish were put back into the water so they could return to their home and become human again. The death in the river is an act of renewal and rebirth. A sacrifice as much a part of life on Earth as is a wind blowing across an ocean. To stand by a river when the salmon run is to witness the unfolding of an ancient pact with nature. And so in this, then, there is beauty, it is an endless moment in the life of the Salmon People living their lives to the full. To see their bones in the river is to pay tribute to the terrible beauty of a purpose that is unrestrained by self-pity and vain regrets. The life of the salmon is not some leap of faith, but instead lies in the bones on the riverbed. One day you should see this for yourself and be reminded of the pact we all once had with the salmon, and every other living being.

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