on salmon and the soul

Hatfield on the other hand plays with our minds and insults our finest biologists by lying that Columbia/Snake river salmon are thriving. The 90% reduction in wild fish and numerous exterminations of coho, sockeye, and other species caused in just 25 years by four Snake River dams apparently doesn’t concern him…”

 

by david james duncan

 

For a resident of the Pacific Northwest to say, in his or her industrial self-absorption or consumer-esque abstraction, that they “don’t care about the extinction of wild salmon” is tantamount to saying that one doesn’t care about the history of one’s home, the health of one’s home, or the death of the cultures, lifeways, jobs, and flora and fauna of one’s home.

It’s saying that one doesn’t care about the death of ancient heritage.

It’s saying that one doesn’t care whether one’s own government obeys great American laws such as the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, or keeps the endlessly broken promises made to still-living, still-deserving, still-impoverished Indian tribes.

It’s saying that one doesn’t care about the death of our justice system, or about the preservation of the Northwest’s greatest source of food, ever—a source of marine nitrogen and protein that historically has fed thousands of times more people than all the Northwest’s beef and dairy cattle combined.

It’s saying one doesn’t care about the will of the people (80% of whom are willing to sacrifice four Snake River dams to preserve the Columbia/Snake’s wild salmon), or about the conversion of honest science into corporate plutocracy, or about the conversion of honest science into corporate sham science. To acquiesce, on the Columbian/Snake river system specifically, in the industrial extirpation of wild salmon is to allow a tiny minority of self-serving political screamers to perform a complete hysterectomy that will last forever on the world’s single greatest salmon-producing river system – one the Catholic bishops of the Northwest have called “a sacred commons.”

And of course, many don’t care about these things, and do acquiesce, including many who are highly respected: Mark Hatfield and Slade Gorton, for example. Gorton calls salmon ” a remnant species,” which is like calling the Gospels a remnant text tacked onto the Old Testament as an afterthought. Hatfield on the other hand plays with our minds and insults our finest biologists by lying that Columbia/Snake river salmon are thriving. The 90% reduction in wild fish and numerous exterminations of coho, sockeye, and other species caused in just 25 years by four Snake River dams apparently doesn’t concern him.

A wild salmon is a holy creature. On the very first page of the Bible, the sublime Creativity that has given us wild salmon, and ourselves, is celebrated in beautiful words. Listen: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the waters…And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that is was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas…

As a huge fan not just of Moses but of the Gospels, I’d add that salmon, in feeding their eggs and young bodies to native trout and kingfishers and larger bodies to otters and eagles and larger bodies to seals and orcas and larger bodies yet to bears and men and spawned-out bodies to salmonberries, swordferns, cedar trees, and wildflowers, they are, from one end of their life to another, “loving their enemies and doing good to those who hate them.” The Northwest Chain of Being needs salmon to remain unbroken. Chinooks the size of my leg have forever climbed our rivers like the heroes of some gorgeous Sunday sermon, nailing their shining bodies to lonely beds of gravel that tiny silver offspring may live.

When they no longer come, it’s the message of the Gospels and the spiritual legacy of our children that go silent: no more sermon.

As a biological organism with a pronounced taste for salmon, as a lifelong fisherman, and as a lover of God and spiritual truth and native culture, I find that silence very hard to bear.

 

Originally published:
Issue Nineteen
April 2002

 


David James Duncan is the author of two novels, The River Why and The Brothers K, and several collections of stories and essays: River Teeth, My Story as Told by Water, and God Laughs & Plays: Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalist Right. He lives, laughs, plays, writes, and fishes with his wife and two daughters in Montana. More from David James Duncan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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