It’s that somewhat peculiar time of year-the autumn glory is over, the birds have migrated south, and we’re waiting for snow. Freeze-up has begun, with frost now staying on the shadowed areas of grass all day, and thin ice is forming on the lakes and ponds. After the summer without them, the stars are back, sparkling in the lengthening night sky. Fresh snow has brightened-up the Alaska Range, and dusted all the other mountains. The colors of the forests are now the muted browns of bare limbs and dead leaves on the ground. The evergreens stand dark, waiting for snow to etch their limbs with white.
For me, the bright spot in this time of year is the Coho Salmon. Theirs is the last of the salmon runs in our area, and they choose the cold autumn waters for their spawning beds. There is one creek in particular to which I hike to watch the salmon each fall, and I was there in mid-October, happy to see that my heroes had returned at last. By the time I was able to make my first hike there, they had already spawned, but they were lively and the males still sparred with each other. Only a few had the white patches on their sleek bodies, indicating that their bodies were beginning to decay as they began their decline towards their life’s end.
The lake from which this creek drains was probably formed by a receding glacier, and at some point-long, long before humans came to this area-the salmon found this creek and began coming here to spawn. How and why they chose this particular creek is a mystery, but the rhythm was set in place and each fall the descendents of that first ancient salmon run return to this creek to continue this part of the genetic code for all salmon. They face many predators in their years in the ocean-when they arrive there they are small and it seems like everything wants to dine on them, even larger fish. Those who survive grow bigger, and wiser, and learn to avoid more predators and other challenges. When humans came on the scene, they added their own long list of challenges to the fish, from direct fishing to pollution. And when the salmon finally answer the urge to leave the sea and return to their freshwater natal homes, they face a fresh onslaught of predators and challenges, natural and human-made. (more…)