A timeless story of closing the loop and returning to one’s natal waters

We enter the bay by way of the Wilson River and meet up with our brothers from the Kilchis, Trask, Miami and Tillamook. This estuarine mix of fresh and salt water is different but fills us with a curious excitement. We move north, toward Garibaldi, Oregon, passing Crab Harbor and Sow and Pigs, then turn west, making our way around the bars. I see the Pacific for the first time in early spring, gliding into this ocean, sensing the breadth of this new world.

My father and his father — and his father before him — all made this trip, passing the Coast Salish tribes innumerable times, my existence so much a part of why these early settlers flourished. Nature dictates our route, our path governed by tides and moon, wind and current, empyrean and ancestral guidance. Our journeys and destinations remain a mystery to all but us. Some will venture south to California, others north to Alaska, with direction determined by DNA, rather than choice.

I travel to forage and grow, the ways of my ancestors permeating my actions, repetition giving way to maturation, becoming one with this fluid world. Time passes, and my patterns begin to emulate those of my forebears. I am both prey and predator in this place, with my longevity hinging on what I have learned, my individual success sustaining all of us as a whole.

It has been three years, and suddenly I feel the gentle tug and begin the turn — the turn that will lead us home. The outer bars have changed, but instinct guides me. I move down-bay … leading … through Seal Channel, past Sibley Sands, carving a subtle curve to the east that brings me back to the mouth of the Wilson.

A quiet pool provides a resting place between shallow reaches for salmon struggling upstream.

A quiet pool provides a resting place between shallow reaches for salmon struggling upstream.

We gather and feed, resting briefly and gaining strength before the journey back upstream. The river draws us in, and after days of up-current battle we stop, exhausted, waiting for the next cue.

We are held in place by a small eddy, and as this water flows through me I gain direction. I smell the Jordan, the creek where I was spawned. The pull is almost magnetic as I lead and we race for its mouth. Another half-day’s journey, and we arrive at the pool where we were hatched, females already there, preparing redds where eggs will be placed.

Another unexplainable act in nature’s play brings us together, finding each other in these chance surroundings, brushing each other, making contact. I replace her over the redd and expel, fanning with my pectorals, gently bathing the eggs in life-giving sperm. In time they will hatch, replace me and repeat this dance.

I lay motionless now, the cool stones of the Jordan’s bed pressing upon my side, one eye gazing up. The sun pierces the surface and briefly warms my body before it becomes stiff and cold. My bones dissolve and wash downstream, renourishing the waters that gave me life.

I am the coho, the chum, the chinook. My time here has ended … my job is done.

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