Wednesday November 1, 2023

High Country News

Picture yourself: a chinook salmon, in the prime of your life. You dart through the water off California’s central coast, winding through kelp and dodging hungry sea lions. Long, sleek and silver, dappled with dark spots. Eyes wide and vigilant; 50 pounds of pure muscle.

You’ve been out at sea for several years now, first voyaging north along the Oregon coastline, then westward into deeper water. As winter approaches and the days grow shorter, you’ve found your way back to California. You’ve felt the seasons turn before, but this year, it means something special. 

Your kind, the Central Valley chinook — what fishers call the “king” salmon — are not born at sea. For thousands of years, your ancestors began their lives in the heart of California, where tributaries and streams flow together to form the mighty Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. They fanned out across the valley, across forested streams, desert rivers and delta wetlands. There, hundreds of miles from the ocean, hatchlings the size of paperclips wriggled free from eggs the color of the sun. There, as young salmon fry, they floated, taking in the scent of their birth river — the beginnings of a map they would use to find their way back one day. There they felt the pull of the water, surrendered themselves to the current and began the long journey downstream.

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