3rd of May 2017

Excerpt from an essay by David James Duncan
May 4, 2017 

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On the eastern edge of Idaho last fall, seven hundred miles from the sea, I watched a single female chinook, with great, crimson-gilled gasps of effort, turn her ocean- built body into a shovel and dig, in the unforgiving bone of the continent, a home for offspring she would not live to see. I watched her lay eggs so tender the touch of a child’s fingertip would crush them, eggs exactly the color of setting suns.

I watched the darker, fierce-kyped male ease in front of those suns, and send milt melting down into her nest of stones. I watched the paired chinook circle their pebbled redd, tending it, guarding it—I want to say “loving it,” if the State will allow. Yet only incidentally, as if by accident, did they touch each other. Because they weren’t making love to each other. They were making love to the very land and water, to broken bits of mountain and melting snows.

I left them to die, as salmon do, their clutch of eggs orphaned in a frigid gravel womb. As I write these words, winter has snapped down hard in the Rockies. Snow is mounting high. But in that ice-covered streambed nest, which the female covered with protective pebbles with her last few strokes of life, tiny eyes are even now appearing in her sun-colored eggs. Because there is a fire in water. There is an invisible flame, hidden in water, that creates not heat but life.

And in this bewildering age, no matter how dark or glib some monetized, spiritually inert humans work to make it, wild salmon still climb rivers and mountain ranges in absolute earnest, solely to make contact with that flame. Words can’t reach deep or high enough to embody this wonder. Only wild salmon can embody it. Each migration, each annual return from the sea, these incomparable creatures climb our inland mountains and sacrifice their lives, that tiny silver offspring may be born of an impossible watery flame.

These are the beings, the “remnant species,” that we are eradicating from the American West and the Pacific for all time.

David James Duncan is the author of a half dozen books, including the novels The River Why, The Brothers K and a “fast response activist book” on the Highway 12 Mega-load story Heart of the Monster with Rick Bass. David has long been a practitioner of “direct, small-scale compassionate activism.” He and his wife live in western Montana.