Salmon Near the Heart of Darkness

Nugget MountainTwo battered silver salmon maintain station in a Switzer Creek eddy. I can see a child’s slide that the fish had to swim past to reach their holding water. The head of one fish is white with scars but neither move with the lethargy of spawned-out salmon. I’m thinking that they took a wrong turn out in the Gulf of Alaska or spent too long at a herring feed. For whatever reason they missed the procreation party. Nature won’t allow them to spend another year fattening up in salt water so they are doomed to hunker until death in an ice covered hole.

When Aki grows impatient we move up creek through an old growth forest, then onto the boardwalk trail across Switzer Meadow. Black slime makes the submerged boards too slick for my boots and I almost fall several times before we can reach an old corduroy road paved with fallen tree trunks. They must not be chasing eagles away from the nearby dump because none of the big birds perch in the spruce lining the meadow.

We hear city noise in the hillside forest: the city bus shifting gears as it heads to Lemon Creek State Prison, heavy equipment moving gravel, the beep-beep-beep of a truck full of televisions backing up to the Walmart loading dock. Except for the forest and the neighborhood of middle class houses drained by Switzer Creek, all the land we could easily reach by foot is zoned commercial. We drop down into a small creek’s drainage and find a place where kids could camp during the summer. With the stream noise blocking that made in our industrial area they could pretend they were in the heart of darkness.

Just past the campsite we enter the true dark heart of forest recovering from a 1930’s clearcut. Nothing grows beneath uniformly thin spruce. Their roots, thin and crooked as a witch’s fingers, reach across the trail. Someone has marked the way out with pink florescent tape. We follow it back to the older forest and find the two salmon still hanging out, still looking for the party.

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