The Cycle of Life

Autumn, like spring, is a time of reflection on the cycle of life, it brings both death and new beginnings. Yes, new beginnings. Buds on Rhododendron bushes are full and fat for spring bloom. Forget-me-nots long ago finished blooming and died, yet fresh plants from their seeds make for an incongruous spring green amongst the brown leaves falling around them.  The cycle of life in plants is as notable in the autumn harvest, die-off of annual plants, and dormancy of perennials, as in the rebirth of new spring growth.

Today I was honored to watch a life cycle that has brought awe to all who have witnessed it for hundreds, thousands, of years.  In the fall spawning salmon return to their own birth-rivers and streams after spending their lives swimming around the ocean for 3 to 9 years, depending on the species.  The big Chinook’s take 9 years to mature, the smaller Pinks only 3, Coho 5, Chum, 7.  Imagine…you finally reach your mature reproductive years and you have to find your way, from where ever you happen to be in the ocean, to the mouth of a relatively small body of water, swim up-stream, against the current, find a place that’s not too shallow, not to deep, has just the right mixture of gravel and sand, without too much current, sweep out a little bowl, lay your eggs (called a redd), then roll over and die.  Whew!

Watching these huge fish vying for the best spots, biting one another, chasing off a new comer, swirling and splashing in eddies as late afternoon sun glistened on the shallow waters of the Dosewallips River, I tried to imagine what they might be feeling, or thinking.  Of course Salmon, like much of Nature, run on instinct, not much thinking and feeling going on, but that instinct must create intense changes in their brain waves to accomplish all they must do before their bodies give out.  Most the fish, when not vying for the best spawning sites, were very still in the water, their bodies going through remarkable changes, changes in their physiological make-up that begin in the ocean, enabling them to transform from salt water ocean cruisers to fresh-water power swimmers, often needing to jump rapids and falls to reach their river origins.  And changes that enable them to produce eggs and sperm.

On our honeymoon Mike and I stayed in a B & B cabin on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver B.C. Exploring the area, we stopped at a river where at least 50 Eagles, and many Ravens, were sitting in trees above a bone-dry riverbed.  It was a blue-sky sunny day.  At the mouth of another river salmon so thick they were all you could see, piled on one another, jostling for position, unable to swim up the trickle of water flowing from the hard, cracked clay riverbed.  A local man commented, “It’s going to rain tonight.”  And it did.  A stormy squall filled the riverbeds, making them deep and wide within hours.  The next morning salmon were racing against their internal clocks up these rivers.  Eagles and Ravens waited for the salmon’s death time, their feast time.

How did they know?  How did Salmon swimming around the ocean, know that on that night there would be enough rain to bring to live dry riverbeds, their particular river bed.

There are theories, most having to do with scent.

I consider it another example of the wonder and magic of Nature.

A clear, concise explanation of the salmon life cycle, with good photos, has even more magical details! – Marine Science

Wikipedia –  Salmon

An excellent salmon id page: Salmon Nation

For local salmon information and to read about restoration projects: North Olympic Salmon Coalition

Footnote:  It was fitting that 23 years ago next month Mike and I would see migrating salmon on our honeymoon. At the time Mike was involved with Wild Olympic Salmon and had worked on Finn, the giant migrating salmon used to educate folks about salmon.  Finn was a guest at our wedding party, a sentinel outside for kids to explore. Finn is now managed by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, you can read about him here: Finn