In august 2016 I spent ten days in Sitka, Alaska, volunteering for Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaska Raptor Center. This was my first trip to Alaska, my first encounter with the “The Salmon Forest.” Ten days and I was hooked. The intertwined story of fish, forest, and man unfolded daily, and like the best of stories, each new chapter drew me deeper into the plot.
Walking through the huge trees, proportions change. Time slows down, the air is more fragrant, the ground softer. Sculptured roots, remains of a wind storm that happened 90 years ago, red berries dot the green. Perched on a branch, a bald eagle looks me in the eye. Perhaps this is the same eagle I saw later flying holding a salmon in his claws. I hear the river before seeing it. Clear water, flowing gently towards the sea. When I look closer, I notice the moving shadows. The fish arrived!! Most are still at sea, but some are already making their way upstream. Just a few more days and their carcasses will dot the river floor, a feast for the bears and the eagles. The decayed remainders would feed the trees, make them grow bigger, faster. Fish do not grow on trees, but it seems trees do grow on fish.
Unlike the bears, the fisherman, do not wait for the fish to come to them. Trollers and seiners return to the port, their ice box filled with fish. For many, salmon is much more than food. It is the roof above their head, the clock that dictates the daily schedule, their childhood memories, their legacy.
“There are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” said Rumi. Creating these images, telling nature’s stories, is my way. Through them, I celebrate its wisdom in pairing trees that shade the streams with fish who nurture the soil. Grateful for its bounty and generosity that can not be taken as granted. It is ours to enjoy and ours to safeguard.