The whole family, Erin, Finn and I, decided to head out to watch the salmon run at GoldstreamPark. A short thirty minute drive from our home, it is a great place to observe one of nature’s spectacles, and a remarkable place for Finn to discover the life and death cycle that we all belong to. As we stepped out of our vehicle we were struck by the pungent aroma of decay, the stench of decomposition; and I knew that this was going to
be a real treat. We entered the moist forest, rain coating our jackets with a slippery sheen, our breath a visual reminder of our mortality, and spotted out first fish carcass.
“Salmon Dad, look,” there was a sound of pure joy in his voice.
We ran over to the river bank and suddenly he spotted a school of large fish swimming upstream. Their bodies were dark and only fins and small patches of silver scales flashed in the dim light created by the overcast sky. They sliced through the water, sliding past one another, and then pausing in the onrush of the flowing stream. They seemed determined, facing fate dead on they continued to fight, although most looked weary and close to the end.
Seagulls and other scavengers gathered around; some hovered, some pecked at the bloated bodies of the already expired. It was a melee but it was life.
“Ha, ha, look at that one pushing past his friends,” he sputtered as he pointed through his mitten at a particularly spunky salmon, “and Bob the seagull is here to help out.”
“I guess Bob is on the clean-up crew,” I replied.
Finn was in the habit of singling out one seagull and labeled it ‘Bob’; he picked this up after feeding a particularly bold one in Beacon HillPark. It didn’t bother him that there were dozens of gulls flying around; he had focused on the one that was his friend and offered him a small wave.
We strolled along the path, marveling at huge tree girths and weaving through the crowd. At the small wooden building that serves as an Interpretation center, we got more of the story: these spawning salmon had been out in the ocean for the past four years, they had made the long journey back to their home stream to procreate and die. It was explained that it is not fully understood how they are able to manage this incredible feat of navigation, but they do.
We roamed around the display cases, Finn pointing out the Otter, the Beaver, the Bear and the Owls. He took off his mitts so that he could stab at the buttons that prompted an animal sound to play over the speakers. He was delighted by the sights and noise of the place; logging sound-bytes, storing impressions of textures, and connecting all these stimuli to the outside world.
On our way back to the car we paused at a campfire and were offered some marshmallows and roasting sticks by a couple of generous strangers. I browned one for Finn and watched as his pink fingers pulled at the sticky goo; the tactile treat. We thanked them, continued on, and then paused to watch a Native American chant as his brother pulled some salmon off the fire. The grandfather explained; they were saying farewell to some friends that were going back to Alaska.
Before taking our leave I spotted a tree growing out of the top of a large dead stump; old begetting, and feeding, the life of the next generation. I looked down at Finn and squeezing his cold fist I offering him a smile. Sometimes we need reminders that the miracle of Life can be held in our clutched hand, experienced in the lessons of parenthood.