Salmon Death Camp

On the Kowee Creek its all over but the dying for the pink salmon. Aki and I are looking for Silvers fresh from the sea. We lose hope after passing some nattily dressed fly fishermen on our way downriver who tell us they had no luck.

The trail runs through old growth spruce woods to a large tidal meadow. All drained by the creek. The beautiful woods smell of death. There are no birds and only one set of fresh bear prints crosses the trail just before we make the meadow. Salmon carcasses unmolested by bear or bird hang tangled in the creek’s many log jams. Some hang in neat lines on drift wood as if by a bear preserving meat for the winter.  Killed by a recent rain driven flood, the fish ended up on the drift wood when the water receded. The absence of eagle and raven puzzles me. Salmon death camps are usually their scene.

A hunting kestrel flies over us when we break into the meadow. At first we can see well over thigh high grass and wild geraniums, I pick a horse trail heading toward the lower river and soon enter a forest of 6 foot high fireweed stalks, having already flowered and released their down like seeds into the wind. Now they stand flaming red, providing a gift of fall color before dying back to their roots.

Our fireweed forest ends abruptly at the river bank where we stumble on raven chasing a belted kingfisher. The kingfisher lands on a nearby snag, sees us, and flies off with an indignant squawk. In the brief moment before his exit I see the highlights in his oversized eye and stunning blue, white, and black coat. He is the most beautiful bird in our forests. When he flies off I notice piles of freshly chewed salmon carcasses on the trail and bear tracks everywhere. Aki seems relaxed so the bear must be resting. We drop down onto a gravel bar so I can fish.

At first we see only languid pink salmon now drained of color. My footsteps spook one and he swims onto the gravel to our feet. While Aki gives it a cautious sniff as I lift it back into the water. A splash sounds just downriver followed by many more.  Sleek silver salmons start leaping around the edge of the eddy I am fishing. Now eagles and ravens join us in the surrounding trees. The ravens try to give me advice on how to catch the salmon but it is no good. The silvers move on upriver as does the raven.

While I fished Aki found some bear poop to roll in. The smell punished me all the way home in the case. Aki paid later by submitting to two baths.


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