The Salmon Lie Rotten in the River

I have an image in my mind, of a river, along its banks I see the rotting bodies of salmon, and I hear a voice speaking: the salmon feed the forest, bringing the vast wealth of the ocean far inland, the salmon feed the life that feeds their soon-to-hatch babies. The salmon, rotting, falling apart, barely held together, on this one you see a chunk of its back missing, its spine exposed, but still it pushes and swims upriver, only to spawn and die, feeding the world in its death.

I find this notion unspeakably beautiful. I can’t imagine anything more perfect or more profound. I feel sometimes that my life has shrunk to a tiny pinprick of irrelevance, not for some innate reason specific to my own nature, but rather the opposite…the thing that my body hungers to die for, the thing that my heart hungers to bleed for, I haven’t done this thing. I don’t do this thing. I watch. I wait. I let this thing pass.

For the first time today, I really learned something about the salmon, by watching a DVD on their lives here in the Pacific Northwest (obviously a real world experience will teach me even more). I feel like I’ve come to the edge of some great abyss of unknowing knowingness, some vast well of transformation. I’ve studied and watched animals and their sign for several years now, yet I’ve always avoided the in-depth study of fish and aquatic life. They just didn’t seem to matter.

I come by my foolishness honestly, at least. A fool, convinced to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, who can blame this fool when he continues to watch the pretty show on display, instead of digging, asking, questing for the root.

Well, I’ve found the root, or a piece of it. The salmon’s lives ring to me of Marv’s life in Sin City: The Hard Goodbye. Given a body, given strength, and finally given love and a purpose: who wouldn’t do absolutely anything at that point? Absolutely anything, as one’s body rots away around them, in unbelievable pain, pulling themselves closer to the place where they can finally feed the children in their death.

I wonder sometimes how domesticated I’ve become, and how I can possibly escape it. I usually think of myself as a wild and iconoclastic thinker, one who gets out of the box as easily as breathing. I’ve always noticed the flip-side to this…the dull grinding daily ache of finding the box still there, all around me, and what have I done exactly?

What have I done to nourish the Earth, and my Grandchildren, exactly? I feel like I play with toys, broken toys, made of repellant day-glow plastics. I want to break them further. I want to break out of this heaving nightmarish prison, and reclaim a life worth living, or losing. Maybe right there I’ve said it: I want a life worth losing, a life that has earned real feelings of loss when it goes, rather than simply fear and hollowness from resistance to change.

I want to go out with a “bang”, as they say, a bang that may amount to no more than a richly joyful extended family, connected to all life, full of sorrows and celebration, who needs no masters to tell them how to live, or what to think, or sing, or do.

I find the work inherent in that goal unfathomably immense, however, and I have no idea on god’s green earth how I’ll get there. None.

I think back to Powhatan’s family, his people, in the movie the New World. How do we get there? How do we build that life again? I know some might hear that as “going back” instead of “going forward”.

Well, hell. If I simply needed to “go back” to accomplish that, I’d do it in a heart beat. Just going back? Just try it. Just try to build a life a fraction as enriching and full as that. We can’t go back, not because we’ve “advanced” too far, but because “back” didn’t wait for us to go to it. I’ve read and listened and discussed enough on this to know that the treasure-house that native peoples (our ancestors included) possessed held human riches beyond the imaginations of the most earnest anthropologists. We had so much. And we have to put it back together again, for our own sake, and the sake of life as we know it. And everything in this culture wants us to forget that.

Written by Willem