Plastic Salmon

Hi Folks:

I wandered off to the grocery store today, and as is my wont, decided to take a shortcut. Now to me, a shortcut is something that takes a fifteen minute walk and turns it into two hours or so. Sometimes longer. Fortunately Marcia is a very wise and patient woman; she knows this about me and loves me anyway.  I can still use “I’m new to the area and got lost” as my backup excuse, but that’s not usually necessary.  Never works anyway… mostly because I never get lost.  As Tom Brown, Jr. says, “You’re only lost if you’ve got a place to go and a time to be there.  Otherwise you’re just wherever you are.”  And so off I go.

Most human-created trails are anywhere from 1 to 4 metres wide, and to me that’s not a trail, that’s a superhighway.  When I see a sign that says ‘Please stay on the trail’, I figure deer trails, rabbit trails, and sometimes even mouse tracks qualify.  It’s a dance that the woods and I have.  The trees are always glad to see me, although they do sometimes get over playful.  Can’t count the number of times Marcia has pulled cedar fronds from my hair.  Then there are the hat-eating trees, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I digress.

I was wandering along this trail I found near Colquitz Creek, and looking for the eagles I was told had moved into the area, but it was getting late in the day and the eagles either haven’t yet arrived or had moved off for the day.  When I got down to the creek the first thing I noticed were the bits of plastic bag stuck in the branches:


This image was shot at a really high ISO and certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but you get the idea.  As I got closer I noticed what appeared to be a bag in the stream itself, stuck to a branch:


Again, the file quality isn’t so high…  I stood there shaking my head for a moment, watching the stream tugging at the bag, but as I watched it I also noticed it was moving too rhythmically, as though the bag was too hydrodynamic.  That’s when I realized it wasn’t a shopping bag after all, but the underside of a salmon carcass, caught by the gill flap.  You can’t see it very well from the image, but I’m a biologist type person so you can take my word for it.  No, I’m  not going to go on about the huge amounts of plastic floating around the waterways of the world.  There are many, many other sites that describe this issue, and so I’ll leave it to them.  What I want to talk about is the salmon forest.

It’s something that scientists have only figured out in recent years, but it’s a fascinating cycle in itself.  Pacific salmon, as most people know, are anadromous.  Maybe you haven’t heard that word before, but my grandmother said it’s important to learn one new word every day, so there you go.  You can compare it to catadromous if you like, or you can hold that one until tomorrow!  Basically, anadromous fish are those that are born in fresh water, but then move out to the ocean to live their lives.  In the case of the Pacific salmon, they navigate the ocean currents for four to seven years or so before returning to their home streams to spawn and die.  Not all of them make it to the spawning grounds, but they all die just the same.  Some of them are eaten by bears, wolves, eagles, ravens and gulls, some of the leftovers provide food for mice and shrews, and as the salmon decompose they become hatching places for flies, for fungi and many other species.  And as their bodies return to the earth, they provide nutrients to the forest around them.  Carbon, nitrogen and other compounds from the salmon are taken up by roots and become bound up in the fibres of the trees and other plants.  As they grow, these plants help to regulate the water cycle of the streams, provide shade to keep the waters cool and so on.  It’s an amazing cycle of life and death.  Humans are part of that cycle too, both in the salmon that we take for food (whether personally or commercially), but moreso in how we care for the streams, the rivers and the oceans that the salmon call home.  It’s our home too, after all.  BTW, if you’re not that intrigued by scientific research papers, you might want to have your kids read to you from ‘Salmon Forest‘ by Dr. David Suzuki and Sarah Ellis.  Highly recommended, and don’t be surprised if your kids know more than you do.  Children are like that.

So, I struck out with the eagles today, but I found lots to see just the same.  I’m still learning my way around here, both in this city and in this part of the coastal rainforest.  So many new plants and animals for me to learn.  I won’t try listing all of the plants; aside from a few canines the only other mammal I saw was a single gray squirrel (have you ever tried singing to red squirrels?  Do it right and they’ll actually get quiet and close their eyes for a moment – then they catch themselves at it and get all upset!)  Birds there were aplenty though.  I saw several flocks of Black-capped Chickadees, and a couple of squadrons of Golden-crowned Kinglets.  Their little voices are so quiet!  I came across two Rufous-sided Towhees, a bird I’d never seen before except in photographs.  Their call reminds me of the Gray Catbird from out east, although I’m sure they’d disagree.  As I was walking along I saw two groups of trumpeter swans going north, about 16 or 17 in total, and about 40 Double-crested Cormorants going south.  Either they dislike each other’s company or each group thought they knew something the other didn’t.

By the time I was heading back it was full dark and the Grandmother was hanging bright and beautiful in the sky again.

Grandmother Moon

Grandmother Moon

There was a wonderful halo around her that got me thinking about a story from the People about a time when the moon was kept in a box in the lodge of a man and his daughter and how raven managed to steal it and put it back in the sky.  I made a fractal once that reminded me of that story…

Raven Steals the Moon

(click on the image for a slightly larger version)

The moon will be full for another day or so… if you get a chance, go out and say hello to her!  I know she’ll appreciate it.


Love, Mike.