Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Invitation to Salmon

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The season's first rains are sending invitations to all the salmon waiting in the deeps off Muir Beach. Redwood Creek has cut through the sandbar and is riffling into the sea. I didn't see any salmon trying to make a dash for it on Sunday morning, but the tide was still too low to fully connect creek to ocean. When it gets higher, who knows? 

I seem to miss the brief spawning season almost every year, but I'll never forget one crazy morning, probably 25 years ago, when I saw several salmon heading upstream to spawn in Redwood Creek, way up in the back where Muir Woods and Mt. Tam State Park share a boundary. At one point the salmon had to jump up out of the creek and into the mouth of a metal conduit pipe where the water was shooting out like a fire hose, then go-go-go to get through to the other side and back into the less insane, but still fast-moving creek.

Right here is where Redwood Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. Many hundreds of years ago, long before Sir Francis Drake sailed the Golden Hind past these shrouded shores, young Coast Miwok probably stood right here, or at least very close to here, during the season's first rains, knowing that bounty from the sea was on its way. Of course, the sands of time have no doubt shifted over the years--and there aren't any more grizzlies lurking in the willow thickets--but Redwood Creek has for centuries poured down from Mt. Tamalpais and flowed through Muir Woods and Frank's Valley out to Muir Beach. In the dry season the creek would disappear into the sand before it reached the ocean, just as it does today, and anyone today can still see that it must have been a time for celebration when that sandy dam was breached by the season's first rains.

I drove a short way up Frank's Valley to check the creek where it flows under this old wooden bridge. The railings are covered with lichen, and when a lady jogged across it, the whole thing bounced and swayed. The creek was slowly gurgling along, still quite shallow and clear, not yet singing the song of migrating fish: the splashing of coho as they muscle their red and silver bodies past all obstacles to an apotheosis deep in the forest among towering redwoods, bright ferns and scarlet waxy caps.

An ultramarathon was being run that morning, with the finish line at Muir Beach. Years ago I was out doing photography in the rain, high on a ridge above Tennessee Valley, thinking I had the place completely to myself, when this guy with huge, muscular thighs came bounding up the trail, hardly even breathing hard, running a 50K.

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