Saturday, November 26, 2016

Struggling Upstream

Photo by John Williams
Surrounded by the hush of the forest - firs, cedars, and maples closing in with all their muted glory - I was once again struck by the fragility, yet the stubbornness, of life. Below us in the stream the salmon struggled, their once-glorious bodies battered, tattered, and covered with white splotches of fungus. Theirs was a trip of a lifetime, a one-time journey upstream to preserve their species; a trek marked by danger and tragedy as they wended their way past fishermen, boulders, logs, predators, through culverts, over or around dams and fish ladders.

Many would not survive the ordeal. Those who did would, if successful, produce progeny that might face even greater challenges on their return journey to the sea. It was a risk they all had to take – to choose otherwise would mark the end of their kind.

Salmon are driven by instinct, a highly-sensitive sense of smell, and an uncanny ability to detect the pattern of the Earth's magnetic field at the mouth of their native river. They are one of the few fish that can adjust to differences in salinity, spending part of their lives in both salt and fresh water. Adults live in the ocean where they feed and grow for six months to seven years, depending on the species. At maturity, they return to the stream where they were hatched and literally fight their way upstream to the ideal gravel beds for laying their eggs.

During this time, the adults stop eating and their bodies undergo many changes to help them attract a mate and ward off competitors. After the precious eggs have been laid, fertilized, and gently covered, the adults finally give in to the starvation and damage of their bodies and die. But that is not the end of their story – far from it. Some of the dying or dead fish provide food for other animals; their decomposed bodies return valuable nutrients to the water and soil of the surrounding forest.

Photo by Laura Finch
The newly-hatched fish continue to feed on the yolk sac attached to their bellies. Some kinds stay in the gravel for several weeks before swimming up into the open water of the stream, where they feed on plankton and other tiny aquatic organisms. Some spend one to two years in fresh water before beginning the long journey downstream and heading out to sea. As the current carries the young salmon tail-first to the ocean, their bodies undergo physical and chemical changes to enable them to survive in salt water. It truly is an incredible, never-ending circle of life.

Photo by Laura Finch
God provides us with many teachers and there is much we can learn from the salmon. We need to become keenly aware of our instincts and learn to trust in them; as we develop our finely-tuned sense of self and a sense of place, know that those are inexorably linked. We should set our goals and persevere until they are reached, no matter how tough the going may be. If we value the wisdom and knowledge of older people who have amassed a wealth of information, experience, and acumen, we will find it is worth making the time to listen to and learn from them. To live sustainably, so that there is enough for everyone, we need to become fully conscious of our use of the many natural resources this planet provides – carefully buying, using, and recycling; there should be little that we waste or throw away. We must trust that others will carry on after us.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:ferences for Ecclesiastes 3:1

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…   
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-5

It is the season of renewal, joy, and hope -


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