Air Date: Week of February 20, 1998
Essayist Robert Leo Heilman tells us of a favorite summer swimming hole, a place where spring Chinook salmon pause in their long journey home. Robert Leo Heilman's latest book is "Overstory Zero: Real Life in Timber Country."
CURWOOD: Two hundred miles up the South Umpqua River, the water pours through a narrow channel between gray basalt rock faces into a deep, still pool. It's a favorite summer swimming home for essayist Robert Leo Heilman, and it's a place where spring chinook salmon pause in their long journey home.
HEILMAN: The salmon know the smell of home, the scent of jasper, basalt, porphyry, quartz, agate, and tufa, carried by the waters from the gravel beds they were hatched in. Patiently, they work their way against the current, returning home from the Aleutian Islands. Here, they wait out the long summer months when the river slows and the water grows warmer, never eating, living on the fats stored in their huge bodies.
On summer mornings you can see them from the cliffs above, silvery ghost shapes in the sun-dappled waters below, moving in a slow, solemn circle dance. They are a bruised and battered lot, bearing the marks of their passage. Old wounds from seal bites, fish hooks, nets, and the scraping of rocks encountered in the riffles of the home stretch. Their flesh, once firm from the Arctic feeding grounds, grows soft in the warm river water. Fuzzy white patches appear on their scaly sides. The mark of infection and a sign of approaching death.
They are prisoners here for a white, holding in a handful of deeper pools along the upper reaches of the river, rising in the cool quite morning hours, and hiding in the depths when the afternoon brings heat and the campers and bathers who splash about on the surface. Evening comes and the humans leave. Black-tailed deer come down to drink. The firs and cedars cast long shadows across the pool. Silence returns to their watery world with the night.
There's a quite joyfulness to their languid circling: not the exuberance of their leaping struggle through whitewater on their way up here, but a deeper joy made of patience, survival, and expectation. Their long journey is nearly over, the uncounted thousands of miles behind them.. Soon, the rains will come and they'll swim upriver on the rising waters, as their ancestors have always done, to dig their nests on gravel bars and lay their eggs in the waters of home.
CURWOOD: Writer Robert Leo Heilman's latest book is Over Story Zero: Real Life in Timber Country.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth