Tis the season for salmon

My husband and I have kept ourselves busy the last few days decorating for Christmas. Tis the season after all.

It’s also the most magical time of the year down at the river. As I ran this morning, I realized that I have fallen in love with the river, and this time of year has become my favorite river season for two reasons: cooler weather and the salmon run.


Salmon splash in shallow parts of the river as they make their way upstream.


The end point for the salmon, at the gates of the hatchery

A fish hatchery upriver raises Chinook salmon from the eggs they collect (a process that is not at all for the faint of heart of heart to watch). Visitors to the hatchery can watch the salmon climb the ladder (also troubling to watch, as some of the salmon throw themselves again and again at gates that often close to prevent overcrowding in the holding tanks).


A fish makes it up a “rung” of the ladder.


The ladder draws crowds daily, salmon climbing and people watching.

I prefer a spot lower down the river, one where I stop daily at the river’s edge to watch the splashing of the salmon, trying to decide if this day holds more salmon than the day before.

There’s inherent heartbreak to the salmon run. They swim up river to spawn and then die. The last few days, I’ve noticed more and more dead salmon in the river and along its banks (Warning: photo of dead salmon below). That also means the vulture count is growing.


I count at least sixteen in this picture.


The vultures provide a necessary service, but … I don’t enjoy this part.

The river teems with birds at all times of the year, but this heron (a year-round resident) seems especially perturbed by the vultures landing so close to him.


Puffing up with indignation


Establishing the pecking order? Or claiming personal space?

As the sun emerged from clouds the other morning, the vultures stretched their wings to warm in the sun’s heat. As ugly as vultures are, I found them beautiful in their own way this day.


Ugly and beautiful?

The vultures’ presence is vital, or the river would become unbearable for the stench and debris. It’s hard to watch, but I remind myself that this is the salmon’s goal in life and is a cycle they must undertake to keep their species going.

The hatchery offers hope on this front. For a quarter, you can buy fish food to feed these babies:


A holding pond filled with baby chinooks

Have you ever seen the salmon run? If not, come visit California in the fall. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spellbound by this spectacular cycle of nature.