Updated: Feb 25
There’s this line in a Lukas Nelson song that goes, “If I started over I’d find you again.” I have no sense of direction, so I hope this is possible for me, but salmon do it all the time.
Fall is here, and this is the time when salmon make their run.
Not like a run to the supermarket or the liquor store, but a run to reproduce and die.
I suppose we all do this anyway, but salmon go back to their natal river — the exact spot where they were born.
I love this idea. It’s called homing.
It’s not thought that humans have this ability, but I’m not so sure.
We have cryptochrome, a protein in our eyes that does something similar, maybe. Have you ever looked at someone for the first time and felt like you knew them forever, or went somewhere and instantly felt at home?
Salmon use magnetic fields and a strong sense of smell to make their way back home. Their whole life long they remember the smell of the river that bore them.
When I think of “going back home,” I think of the things that make me feel most like myself, like music and dancing and laughing. Like working with my hands. Like being with the ones that I love and love me back.
Like how my daughter feels when she’s at her grandmother’s house. She giggles with delight after winning a hand of “Screw Your Neighbor.” She sleeps contently with her grandmother’s dogs nestled by her side. She sits on the porch and talks to her grandmother as they watch the moon.
“I don’t want to leave, mom. Can I stay one more night?” she says.
The hardness of the world falls away and she can just be. She just is.
“Yes. Of course,” I say.
She feels this way at the ocean, too.
e.e. cummings wrote, “whatever you lose like a you or a me it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.” My daughter spends hours wading in the water, the waves washing over her, losing herself and finding herself, again.
“Let go and lose yourself a little,” I tell myself. “Just let it all fall away and die.”
I like the idea of dying. Not really dying, but dying to myself. I learned this in church, once. You know, shedding all that hubris and getting down to it.
I want to get down to it.
I bet salmon aren’t afraid to die, either. They prepare for it. Before they start their run, they make sure they’re in peak performance. They change color and appearance. Then, they battle hundreds of miles upstream, leaping and jumping over currents and rapids and waterfalls.
When a female salmon makes her way to her river, she lays her roe in a redd in the riffice of the water. She does this again and again until she can’t do it anymore. Then she lays down and dies.
And something new is born.
*First Published in the Pittsburgh Quarterly.