Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Wet...and Thanks for All the Fish

Drip drop splash,
drip drop splash,
drip drop splash
went the rain all day.

That's the first page of one of our favorite kids' books, Rain Drop Splash by Alvin Tresselt. Although as it is mid-November in Seattle, you can change that to "went the rain all day, and all night, and all week, and for quite a few weeks yet to come, and boy are we lucky it isn't snow." In the past 24 hours, some areas have gotten as much as 6 inches of rain (in Seattle, about half that).

Just stepping outside gets you pretty wet, and once you're soaked you can't really get any wetter, so I figured it was a good time to go up to Carkeek and check out the return of chum salmon to Piper's Creek, which wends its way through the evergreens, maples, and alders of this lovely city park.

Also it seemed fitting to do so because tomorrow's Thanksgiving, and though we aren't doing the big turkey-fest with the whole family til Saturday, the three of us will be celebrating nonetheless with a fine Copper River sockeye salmon for dinner. Sloshing through puddles to pay tribute to salmon also made for a good excuse to slip away from work and deadlines for a while.

Whenver I take the time to do things like this, I wonder why I don't escape more often. We've got a plethora of parks and green spaces in Seattle. Here, just a few minutes from my urban household, is a creek tumbling through the watershed and into the Sound, through a forest that hasn't been logged in 80 years and so boasts some of the look and feel of old growth.

I didn't think I'd be lucky enough to spot a salmon, but I did: one lone fish, which looked to be about as long as my arm, resting on a gravel bank. The creek rushed along bluffing that it was a mighty river, swollen with the ongoing rain, and the fish looked absolutely knackered. It was panting fish-style, gills heaving.

Salmon look pretty ragged by the time they finish migrating upstream and spawning, and this one was no exception. Its tail appeared to be stripped of skin, which led me to think it might be a female. (According to a Washington State governmental site, "The caudal fin and peduncle of females not only becomes abraded but skin, muscle tissue and fin rays are eroded." The female's digging of gravel nests, called redds, probably accounts for some of this wear and tear.

What these poor fish endure! This gal had probably left Piper's Creek about four years ago; swum out to the Pacific; avoided ducks, herons, bears, and other predators; then fought her way back up the creek, all the while undergoing physiological changes related to reproduction and ageing that would send a human off to a support group (skin thickening, jaw elongation, teeth eruption, abdominal swelling, scale absorption).

It's estimated that in just two weeks, a salmon ages as much as a person does over a span of 20 to 40 years.

Only once did this fish move--it thrashed its tail frantically for a few seconds and lunged a yard upstream before lying still again.

I wondered if it had already spawned and now would just blindly forge upstream for a while longer before becoming a Thanksgiving meal for a raccoon or other wild creature.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Salmon are utterly amazing, and how incredible that you see them in Seattle.

  2. The next time you head out for a hike, give me a ring. I'm always up for an adventure, especially when it involves puddles!

  3. Jane--yep, I often forget what a cool city I live in. Sometimes the decay of parts of it make me want to move away, other times something lovely happens and I forgive and forget.

    Rachael--you bet--and one thing I like about living out here is how one becomes accustomed to not caring if it's raining out; it's still a good day to go outside.