20 September 2007
Salmon brought me to Alaska, and the salmon are dead. It must be time to come home.
In June, a tightly-coiled Alaska waits for the salmon schools to make their way north past fishermen, dams, animals and low water. July and August spring a harvest frenzy as they show themselves, usually in smaller than projected numbers, and throw themselves into the eager nets of seiners and gillneters and onto the baited hooks of trollers, charter fishermen and white-haired, red-faced, mid-life man tourists. September stinks. The spawn-focused fish make their way up the same streams in which they were born, shoot their load of eggs or sperm, then flop around until they die, cannibalistically sacrificing themselves to pump up the nutrient level in the water where their salmon babies (or fry) will soon hatch. Creek air thickens with rot and decay. September meat is worth less on the seafood market.
During my hour and fifteen minute kayak tour, I tell tourists the salmon they see leaping out of the water are doing so to loosen tight egg skeins, individualizing the eggs and softening each shell for fertilization. Soon after my explanation today, we saw a wild-eyed humpy surface and sink repeatedly, in a last ditch panicked and desperate attempt at a jump. As we passed by, it thrashed once more and sunk into the drink, belly up, to join hundreds of other putrefying patches of white on the floor of the bay.
Six summers I have followed the salmon cycle, escaping and flying to the real world of the lower 48 as soon as the flesh starts to fall off the still-swimming fishes. If I stick around too long, I fear I’ll end up like that spawned-out humpy in a despairing last thrash before I sink into a sun-deprived, rain-soaked Alaskan winter depression. Thus I plan my return and save my useless eggs.
Just kidding. I flipped out, missed the ferry, changed my ticket and fly to Seattle tonight. See everyone soon.