Salmon Field Trip

I kind of forgot about the Daylight Savings thing yesterday. I always do, and it always involves being too late or too early and then a frantic re-setting of the clocks and a little voice in my head going “But what time is it REALLY?”

This is germane only because yesterday Carl and I were going to go to some alumni thing for his college and we had to be there at a certain time and were trying very hard to stop running back and forth between our two houses because we kept forgetting things (“My shell!” “The camera!” “Water bottles!”) and actually get in the car and drive down to Renton, which is sort of near the airport and sort of near IKEA. We were going to go on this salmon walk thing…you have a naturalist that takes you on a little walk around this weird park that seems to be an industrial wasteland that has been allowed to sort of grow things on it again, and you see some salmon with your special Salmon Viewers, which look like 3-D glasses but are really polarizing and for making the glare on the water less so you can actually see the salmon in the water.

But first we had to get down there, and get down there we did…a full hour before we were supposed to meet everyone else. The restaurant had never heard of our group and didn’t know what we were talking about. The email said 10:00, and we were about 90 percent certain we had the day correct. Um…uh…okay. We decided just to get breakfast and see what happened. What happened, of course, is that we were an hour early because of the time change. Sigh.

Anyway, we met up with everyone and had breakfast (which we would have eaten, and paid for twice had not a waitress mentioned that she’d slept an extra hour, leading to a lot of forehead slapping and a beam of understanding falling from above and also a trip to Fred Meyer for stain stick and something to keep my hair out of my face) and listened to a little talk about the various watersheds in the Puget Sound area. I wish I could give you the whole thing verbatim (including the large 3-D map visuals) because it’s a pretty interesting story. All the white people who came to Seattle a hundred or so years ago had this great idea to make the new city into…the Pittsburgh of the West. Can you imagine? To this end they diverted some rivers and lowered some lakes and filled in many acres of mudflats and all sorts of things. I had no idea. I knew you could straighten a river, as the whole Kissimmee debacle in Florida demonstrated. But I didn’t know that you could just make a river go where you wanted it to go so that ships could go into a fake harbor so that you could be the Pittsburgh of the West. Amazing. That would never occur to me. I don’t think I would ever say to a bunch of town fathers, “Hey, you know what let’s do? Let’s change the face of the land to correspond to our commercial ambitions!” I guess this is why I’m not a captain of industry or anything. I guess this is also why people who didn’t think to do these things got killed by people who did, right? If your position is that you respect all life and try to live lightly on the land, and some folks nattering on about Manifest Destiny want what you’ve got, then obviously they’re not playing by the same rules and they’re going to take whatever they want.

So that gave me a lot to think about on the way to the park. As you can see. The first park we went to had been some sort of gravel production pit that was right near a river and when gravel wasn’t in demand (or something?) or when it shut down for whatever reason, it turned out to be a great place for a certain type of salmon to spawn whose name I have temporarily forgotten. There are lots of diffent kinds, you know, but I’m afraid I zoned out a little during that part of the talk. Coho, Chinook, um, pink, chum, something else, and something else. Apparently there’s no difference in the taste. We hooked up with the naturalist and walked all around the park, putting on our Salmon Viewers and going “Hey! There’s one! There’s another!” We got to a place where fish are caught in a weir and taken to hatcheries, and also to a place where salmon go to die, after they have completed their Amazing Journey. Dead salmon, just washed up on the shore, missing their eyes because apparently that’s the tastiest bit for any number of critters. I admit I found it a bit depressing to watch all those fish swim upstream, sometimes getting exhausted and swept back again, and then seeing all the dead ones nearby. I think I took the swimming upstream thing a little personally. I don’t know. I liked the beaver dam pond we went to next much better, even though there weren’t as many salmon there. I also liked walking along a river with some of the trees’ leaves all different colors, in the sun.

Fall is kind of a mixed bag in Seattle because on the one hand, you know, it starts raining, but on the other hand, the not-rainy days are so beautiful and clear and it’s the real beginning of the year and there’s a lot of possibility in the air. And when you get to see a beavers’ dam (but no actual beavers)…

Of course some of the stuff I mentioned in the above paragraphs was still running along below all my ooh-ing and ahh-ing, definitely. There were all these signs all over the place that said “What Can YOU Do To Help Salmon?” and it seems the main thing you can do, if you’re in the Seattle area is…um, not to water your lawn very much. It’s astounding to me how something that simple makes such a huge different in this habitat…upon which a lot depends, ecological-niche-wise, not to mention peoples’ livelihoods as well. But yes. It turns out that if you don’t put poison on your lawn, and in fact don’t even have much of a lawn but instead have native plants, and if you don’t leave your sprinklers on all the time, that saves water which the salmon use to swim upstream and enact their Amazing Journey. We’d already picked up a bunch of pamphlets about all this and Carl and I spent some time being all starry-eyed about native-plant-xeriscaped gardens, and energy efficient appliances, and all these other salmon-friendly things. Carl said later that it was really helpful for him to see actual real salmon in the actual real river in which they live and to make connections between those actual real salmon and his actions. That’s a lesson I can’t seem to learn very well, so it was good to hear.

We also went to where Seattle’s drinking water is filtered and learned all about turbidity and we got to see a fish-sorting…um, thing. Station. Plant. Something. Anyway, again I wasn’t paying too much attention to what the naturalist was saying about why the fish have to be sorted. Something to do with some of the fish go up above a dam and some…don’t? I’m sorry. I ought to have taken notes. Anyway, the salmon sorter. The salmon somehow get sucked into this little tube and then they go up an Archimedes’ Screw (not just for science museums!) and then they go into a sort of trough with a drain in it for all the water, where the fish sorter…we were above, watching all of this, and could see the sorters clearly…tries to grab the salmon (who now has no water to breathe and seems, understandably, rather put out) by the tail and that is quite a dramatic production, with the fish thrashing around and freaking out, and then the other fish sorter grabs the fish by its head and apparently takes a sample of its inner ear (although it just looked like he was punching a hole in the fish’s head with a hole puncher…not like that’s all that comfortable either, I’m guessing) and then finally the poor fish gets thrown down one of two chutes (both with water in them, thank goodness) depending on that criterion I missed because I was looking at a spider on a big spiderweb and not paying much attention at all.

Still, the fish sorting was sort of riveting. There’s about two minutes between fish, during which the fish sorters just kind of hang out and talk. They were an older woman and a younger man and I pretended that he was asking her love advice questions about a nebulous girl but really he was infatuated with his older and perhaps forbidden fellow-fish sorter. I imagined she was his supervisor at the fish-sorting…facility, and she was teaching him the ropes and that he always wore his best pair of chest-high waders whenever he was paired up with him. And then it was time to go home.

Now, lest you think that I regularly spend my weekends doing field-trippy stuff like this, all going to lectures on the history of my local watershed and voluntarily touring my local drinking water purification facility, I must hasten to assure you that movies were watched this weekend, bellydance rehearsal attended, consumer products bought, dinner eaten, jokes made, conversations had. It was the first weekend in a while that I haven’t had a lot of very social things to do, and it was sort of a relief just to spend time with Carl in an unstructured way…we kept going “We can do whatever we want! We don’t have to meet anyone for anything!” It sort of felt like playing hooky, which is weird, because it’s not like hanging out with my friends of my own volition is like going to jail or anything. It just gets hectic, and sometimes it’s just nice to chill. And then go to your local salmon-spawning site. You know how it is.

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