Monday, July 30, 2012

The Beauty of Brown Bears and Salmon

I always joke that I could be a brown bear. My favorite foods, foods I grew up eating in Alaska, include salmon and berries. My sister-in-law just posted a link to brown bears fishing at Brooks Falls in Alaska. It is too gorgeous not to share.

Brown Bears and Salmon. A perfect marriage. They each need the other. There is no need to root for one over the other. Neither exists without the other. May they be together always.
When I was a little girl I used to love it when my parents would take us to the restaurant at the visitors center at Mendenall Glacier where I would consume the words most delicious tuna sandwiches ( I have tried to recreate these sandwiches to no avail-closest I get is buttering both sides of the bread and spreading a very light layer of mayonnaise then piling on the tuna and adding some salt). Beside the road on the drive to and from the glacier runs a creek. I remember watching it carefully as we drove up when the salmon were running. Dear reader, you could not see the water for the fish. A creek of flashing silver as far as my eyes could see. I imagined it always had and always would be so rich with life.

I remember taking my son to see the Trask River Fish Hatchery here in Oregon one fall as the Chinook were spawning. In Oregon fourth grade public school students must do a report on a state county and my beautiful child scored Tillamook County-home to so many treasures including, conveniently, Al & G Ma's beach cabin in Rockaway.We embarked on an epic exploration of all things Tillamook from the highly recommended Historical Pioneer Museum to the Cheese Factory. We decided to check out the fish hatchery after visiting a nearby Pioneer Cemetery.

There I stood, suspended on a gangplank above the river, caught completely by surprise, sobbing at the sight of so many glorious fish. I never imagined I would ever see such a richness of salmon again after leaving Alaska. I knew it was just a small, hatchery raised group that I was witnessing in the magnificent, poignant finale of a journey as mysterious as it was epic. And there I stood weeping for the bears and the salmon and the native people and the fisherfolk and the little kids (the little me) who knew abundance and now knew that richness was gone. And I wanted my son to understand that story so desperately-to recognize those fish as life-bearers, as silver and red, exhausted gods creating whole worlds with their struggle.

Brown bears can be scary even though they most often remind me of my favorite dogs. We camped on Kodiak Island and heard stories of visitors who had  to swim for their boats as they were chased off the beach by big bears. As we hiked to our cabin, we would ring bells and sing camp songs as loud as we could so the bears could avoid us. I remember marveling at my parent's good humor when all around us prowled hungry brown bears. I was sure we would eventually be eaten but I never let it deter me from running around that island with my brothers splashing into lakes and picking salmon berries.

Silly me, I thought plump children would be more delicious to summer hungry bears than fat salmon. There is nothing more delicious than fat salmon.

On my father's first week of work as state highway engineer, one of his survey crew was killed by a bear.  I knew and respected their power even as a child. And I loved them. I love them. As ferocious as they are.

I hope they live long and prosper and send descendants out into the future to meet up with an ocean tested multitude of fat, shiny, oily, rich, beautiful life-giving fish.

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