Fall of the Wild

Lucky in wild life the last few days of summer: the wet blow of an orca spouting, then rising to display its shiny black back against the uncommonly placid blue of Georgia Strait; river otters darting from sea to shore, holding entire crabs between their teeth; the ubiquitous black-tailed deer that prefer geraniums and roses to the forest fringe vegetation they have evolved to eat.
Whale watching, Georgia Straight, late September

Then the first day of fall, and fish! Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of cutthroat trout, coho and chum salmon nudging up streams to spawn. Except... at the end of the dry season, a single day of drenching rain was not sufficient to fill the neighbourhood creek. Walking to the footbridge that crosses it, I first heard rolling rocks and thought bear, because black bears live in the forest here; it is common to see purple-berry bear poop on the trails. But no bear this time, only a dry river bed up which a lone salmon was trying navigate stones from pebble-sized to small boulders. Just below the bridge, in a deepish pool, fifty to a hundred waited, finning together in a grey moving mass.

Katagiri said, "the fish is the water, the water is the fish."

Anyone who lives in the Pacific northwest is familiar with the miracle of salmon runs and they are no less dramatic for being part of the common lore. No drought here, but a parade of sunny days we celebrated with swimming, picnics, late night trips to the dock to witness two super moons. One of the best summers, people say, waiting in line at the supermarket cash register, sighing as the seasons change. Tell that to the fish, who would be too busy to listen, even if they could decipher human language. For as the days pass, more rain does fall, a steady day of moderately heavy rain pours into the local creek and others along the coast, but the problem is the culvert that runs under the road to town. That's the human language the fish understand clearly as if someone were standing there saying, No, sorry; this is as far as you go. Though they try to leap the fall of water gushing out, they can't make it. A well meaning friend nets a couple and walks them through the culvert to the other side of the road. But then what? And anyway, what is the duty here? To try to undo what has been done to convenience humans, or let nature - and we humans are part of nature - take its course?

Meanwhile, at the entrance to the creek, not many yards from the footbridge, more fish enter and stage in the channel, the small pools leading to the bridge and the ascent of the creek bed. Before they can reach the channel, some are caught in driftwood mazes on the beach and the vigilant sea gulls peck out their eyes. A pair of 13 year old girls try to name the individuals before they die. A dog
toys with a salmon carcass. This beautiful Sunday afternoon neighbours line the sides of the channel to admire the dorsal fins sparkling in a brief reprise of summer. A man enlists the aid of a 12 year old, and the two of them begin grabbing fish by the tail and hoisting them up and over the logs, perhaps ten feet to where they can swim freely, at least until they reach the culvert. Infected by the energy of the of the twisting, flipping salmon and trout, more people join in. Even a four year old manages to hang onto one. A man who was counting later boasts that he has moved at least 25.
As a fisheries biologist reportedly told a local fisherman, because this is an el nino year, the Pacific ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island is as much as four degrees warmer than usual.  The fish prefer the cooler water closer to land, where glacial streams enter, or so goes the current theory. Thus the more frequent sightings of fish predators, like the orca that day in Georgia Straight. Like the humpback seen breaching ten minutes north.

This morning on the radio a notice from the London Zoological Society on the state of wildlife populations worldwide. The news is not good for there has been a 50% decline in the numbers of fish, birds, mammals and reptiles in the last 40 years, a good portion of it attributed to human demand on natural resources, including animals, but also the habitat that makes it possible for them to survive.

At home, the black spot in the middle of the room is a spider hanging from a new thread. In the morning I find it crunched up like a grey piece of moss on the carpet.