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Kae Solomon

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Salmon Time


They made it. They’re here. Again this year, despite the record low water levels in the creeks. Despite the

higher temperatures. Despite the fires and floods and habitat destruction like the rockslide upstream on the Fraser River that blocked migration for 2 years.

 The salmon are here.

Each fall beginning early October I walk down to a creek bed, not far from where I live, and very close to

one of the elementary schools where I work as a teacher librarian. Each year I bring classes down to marvel at this miracle of nature, teach about the salmon lifecycle, the end of which they are witnessing in front of them. Outdoor education at its finest. Every time they see the first salmon, their excitement is palpable. This year, the first fish Ms. Jordan’s grade 3 and 4 class sees is a dead one. I point it out reluctantly, but then explain that death is actually a good thing. Their long journey is completed, eggs are laid, the next cycle begins. 

The kids are warned about not running too far ahead. They are curious and enthusiastic about everything

they see. A few blackberries cling to dried thorns, some still plump with juice, the rest withered and white. Huge orange and golden leaves from vine maples flutter like magic in the wind. The children wave them like flags, this majestic emblem for our country. When clumps of mushrooms and toadstools are spotted, I deliver stern warnings about lethal variants. People walk dogs and babies while our students dash back and forth along the path to look out over the banks of the creek, peering into swirling waters.

“Not too close!” we adults admonish, the incline down slippery from recent much-needed rains.

Everyone wants to be first to see a live salmon. They push each other good-naturedly trying to find a better view between the bushes.

“Jackpot!” shouts Tezran as she locates an area teeming with fish at the bottom of a small waterfall. At

least a dozen coho swirl and splash. Regal and prehistoric, silver gills glinting in the sun, all are possessed of intense energy. I take a video with my phone, hoping to catch the moment one will spring up into a jump. It falls back, another tries, over and over, until they make it past the endless hurdles of obstacles to their final spot, further up the creek.

“He’s falling back, he’s falling back,” Nathan observes as one medium-sized coho throws his whole body

into the jump, then flips spectacularly backwards, emerging near the same spot he had begun. 

“Go salmon go!” Elise yells. “ You can do this!”

“We love you salmon!” Jiwan shouts and other voices take up the refrain. 

A new student, Daniil, has to be scolded for, inexplicably, throwing rocks at the fish. He is a recent

immigrant from Russia, pretends not to understand, so I shake my head at him. He goes from throwing rocks to breaking sticks off trees and tossing those in the creek. Later, he will be contrite, big brown eyes seeking mine as he shows me his beautiful pencil crayon sketch, a salmon in mid- jump above the falls. 

Another golden day of autumn, a group of kindergarteners. We first investigate a large dead salmon up

against the side of the bank. Body bloated, innards revealed, somehow still beautiful. It smells, that particular salmon smell, but not as strongly as it will later. The Ks squat to peer closer, curious and accepting. 

“Oh, look at all the bugs!” Parm points. I explain how insects and flies help the body decompose. Then

these same insects will be eaten by birds, and other small creatures, for the life cycle to continue.

 The coho have migrated further downstream, some time after our last class visited. A group of older

ladies point us down the trail to a pool about 200 meters away. I worry about four and five-year-old legs walking that extra distance. Will they have the energy to make it up the steep flights of stairs back to the school? That’s not the only thing I worry about. With the older kids, I share some concerns about water levels, and rising temperatures, but hesitate to discuss climate change with ones so young. 

Back at school with Ms. Jordan’s class I then bring out all the information books the library has on

salmon. We read facts and learn how important the salmon are to the West Coast’s Indigenous peoples and the entire ecosystem. We look at the many illustrations in preparation for scientific drawings. On 11x17 paper, the grade 3s and 4s will try to sketch a realistic drawing of a salmon, label it, then fill in the background with habitat. We spend several library periods on this, the results later proudly posted on the hallway bulletin board. Some kids amaze me with their artistic abilities, their eyes for details, the care, precision and skill with which some draw. 

Every lunch hour for the month that the salmon are in the creek, I walk or run the trail noting progress,

cheering those who made it to their final destination; a shallows in the creek where they lay their eggs in the gravel. I take many photos, to share back at school, until we complete our salmon study.

The smell of rot stronger now, some passersby warn me a bear was sighted. Last year a great grey owl

swooped over my head, then perched in a branch of a Douglas fir, staring down as I pulled out my phone to photograph it. 

Early November, latecomers, still forging homewards, led by instinct, timeless, ageless. In the library, we

prepare for Remembrance Day. Each year I bring up this theme of war and peace with trepidation. Both of my elementary schools are microcosms of the conflicts in the world; refugees from Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran. Many also are 2nd generation whose parents or grandparents fled war or political regimes. How different my life and worries as a child. What horrors and anxieties have these families suffered?

Safe for now in Canada, though swimming against the currents of rising homelessness, food insecurity, the terrorism of humanity at war with itself. Our earth, our very existence hangs in the balance. But here in south western British Columbia, in rivers and creeks and streams, we can still celebrate the return of the salmon. One more time, one more life cycle complete.

Kae Solomon (She/her) has published with Barren Magazine, TWS’s emerge 21 and in the anthology Don’t Tell: Family Secrets. She is currently con-editing and contributing to the anthology Mothering Teens and Young Adults, by Demeter Press. In 2021 Kae received her certificate for The Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University, and in 2022 the Graduate Program, in creative nonfiction. Kae has completed her first memoir, Living in my Fantasy Life, is working on a second memoir and finishing a novel White Spring. She lives and works near Vancouver B.C. with her family.

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