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Rated: E · Poetry · Environment · #1231646
50 years ago the dams of the Columbia River changed Native's way of life with salmon
10,000 Years

The Ancient Chinook Salmon

For 10,000 years the rhythm
was the same.
Our eyes peered through
the membrane of 10,000 eggs
at the waters and stones
of our birthplace.
Small, vulnerable,
we hid quivering
in the gravel nests
our mothers prepared
and protected
before giving their lives
to enrich the waters and life
of the stream.
Our fathers fought,
their life-giving fluid
a drifting cloud over us,
then gave up
the long struggle
and lay down
with gills gasping.

Waking, we wriggled free
of the eggs’ protection.
No hint of future
glory revealed
in our primordial
alevin shape –
all egg sac and bulging eyes.
Larger, ravenous,
we darted up
from the rocky
redd’s safety.
For a few months
we grew and fed,
imprinting the scent
of home
down in our cells.

Drawn by instinct
and desire,
we departed
the streams
and rivers
of our birth.
As young fry
we braved
the churning
frothy Columbia
ancient rapids defined
by bedrock and cliffs.
Urged on by currents
and dreams
we passed the long houses
and trading centers
of the People.
Sahaptin drums
marked our passing.
Dog River and Wasco tribes
gave thanks
for our numbers
that blessed
their own strength.
Coyote’s fishing place
awaited our return.

We survivors reached
the estuary,
salty brine and
fresh currents blended.
Rich nutrients drifted
on tides.
Feeding birds, bears,
and larger fish
we journeyed
to our salty home.
Death preserved
the cycle of life
Our bodies transformed
From smolt to adult
for the next wave
of our lives
in the waters
of the Pacific.

Ready now,
we scattered
as the breakers
carried us out to sea.
For years we
followed solitary ways,
feeding, hiding, honoring
those we nourished.
Tillamook, Sehalem,
and Chinook tribes
gave thanks for our flesh.
Sleek Orcas and swift seals
feasted on our brothers.
Only those with such power
could catch us,
our bodies flashing silver
in the deep.

A wakening yearning
full of mystery
beckoned our return
to the home streams.
Under waterfall spray
we set out,
a river within the river,
our might beyond count.
Our hunger
for nourishment gone,
we sought only
the tantalizing odor
of home, our energy spent
in majestic leaps.

First Salmon was allowed
free passage
in honor of our strength
past the fishing camps with
drying racks, cradle boards,
bustling women
and boasting men.
With a dipnet
created by the weaver,
gaff and spear in hand,
poised on pinnacles
above the rapids
the worthy fisherman
harvested our plenty
in courage and greatness.
Ceremony and celebration
was our due.


Coming with
rafts and canoes
others braved portage.
Following the stream
of settlers
across plains
and mountains
hungering for land,
for fortune
came eager settlers.

Greed followed need.
Dipets were replaced
by gillnets
and fishwheels
creaking wooden
lifting us
pouring us
thrashing into the
holding bin
Millions of us taken
where thousands
had been enough.
The equilibrium
of centuries
fell away as we
slid into the catch.

Canneries decimated
the runs
and dams
bewildered us
We were lost
behind the
choking concrete
barring our wild and
dying before we found
our birthplace.

The balance
created by God
for survival
and mutual existence
tipped toward extinction.
One hundred years
undid the thousands
The ways of the
became broken
and all but lost;
no match for
shortsighted misuse.
Scattered shacks stood
villages vanished.

Too little, too late?
They have seen their errors.
For our children,
for their children,
uncertain futures
lie ahead.
Hatcheries are
now home,
fish ladders
replace falls,
and we try to live
in the only way we know.
Hog salmon
and silverback
have departed into eternity.
If we go, too,
the river will lie placid
and empty
devoid of life
and vitality.

Tsaglalal, She Who Watches,
carved in stone
still teaches
us to live well
and build strong homes.
Our hope is in our
All life depends
on one another.
Maybe it is not too late.

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