The circle of life

20 Oct

Have you ever watched a very young child in Autumn? The look of sheer wonder in their eyes as they watch the leaves, that to them have always been green, suddenly start to turn red, and yellow and actually fall off of the trees. Or to see a brightly coloured fish where none were seen before. I know I don’t remember what I thought the first time I saw those things. Cohen is only 33 months old so really can’t tell us what he thinks, but it sure is obvious that he’s fascinated. Isla being only 4 months old can’t tell us anything, but even she was looking all around her with curiosity.
As you’ve probably guessed, Richard and I accompanied our daughter and her two children to Goldstream Park the other day to watch the salmon run, one of my all time favourite pastimes, besides fishing for them!

The river in all it's fall finery!

Coastal BC is home to 5 of the 6 Pacific salmon and Goldstream River is the natal river of 3 of them, the Coho, Chinook and Chum, with the chum numbers vastly overshadowing the other 2 by a factor of 20. On an average year over 30,000 chum return to this river to spawn and die.
I know you’re thinking 6 Pacific salmon? There’s only 5! Well, you’re almost right. There really are 6, but one is not found on this side of the Pacific Ocean. It is born and returns to die in the waters off of Russia and Japan and is called the Cherry Salmon( Oncorhynchus masou). See, there, you learned something new today!
Now, before I go any further in this story, I have to shake up a few widely held beliefs. Chum are known by many names, Chum,  Dog salmon, or Keta as they’re called  in commercial sales and most anglers will tell you they’re just ugly boots that aren’t worth catching. I’m here to tell you different.
Chum salmon or Oncorhynchus Keta are fabulous fighting salmon when caught in salt water. They actually combine the fighting abilities of both Coho and Chinook, they average around 15 pounds, though they can reach up to 25 and will give even an experienced angler a run for their money. Returning to our coastal waters in mid-September  through till mid-December, they taste great fresh and make fabulous smoked salmon! When caught in the salt, Chum have a silver bright body, with a metallic  blue green back. They can be damned hard to distinguish from Coho without examining their gills or caudal fin scale patterns.

The bad rap comes from their appearance when they start to head for their natal rivers. As the males reach sexual maturity they develop large canine fangs, hence the name Dog salmon. They also grow purple and orange stripes which makes them not the prettiest fish in the river, that honour is held by the Sockeye. Those teeth are not just for show either, in the river they use them to fight with one another for access to the females and to hold territory. If you don’t believe me ask someone who works in any hatchery, they’ll probably just pull up their pants to show you the scars put there by an aggressive male Chum. See I told you I was a retired Salmon fishing guide!

Chum males ready to spawn.

Now back to our original programming!
I’m afraid it was just a little too early to see the chum since they are the last salmon to return to the rivers and the others have long since returned, spawned and died, but the weather was warm and sunny and the park trees put on a fabulous show for us.
The weekend before, the Park had been jam-packed so our daughter thought there might be a few fish to show her son who was too young last year to have cared. No such luck, but that didn’t mean our trip was in vain.


The Big Leaf Maple Tree leaves were turning multiple shades of red and orange, and covered the footpath. They are as big or bigger than your head and have sturdy stalks so of course they must have been put there for small hands to carry. There were also rocks to throw into the stream (and no fish to bother) and a Nature house with a great Owl display. Now Cohen has been here before, but what child do you know who doesn’t revel in playing with something interesting over and over again, plus he had his Grandpa with him. That meant that he had someone new to show all the buttons to and how they worked to make owl calls, of course never realizing that his Grandfather has seen them before.

I wonder what they're talking about?

The two of them walked hand in hand, looking at giant fallen Cedars with holes big enough to stand up in, and discovered that the old side stream tunnel under the highway makes for great echos. We looked at slugs travelling on the path, and large spider webs shining in the dappled sunlight while our daughter carried the baby in a sling and took photographs.(Liz has a well known food blog, guiltykitchen.com and is an excellent photographer, plus she had a new camera to play with!)

I think all of us enjoyed the outing and all for different reasons. For me, I revel in the outdoors in all is mutability though I have to admit that as I age, the cold and wet winters here are becoming unbearable. Besides that though, I look forward to showing all my grandkids the exceptional beauty that surrounds all of us, if only we’d look. I want to be able to let them see what wonders abound in nature and help them to enjoy it. To teach them not to be afraid of, but to embrace the experience. I did this with my own daughters, who are as capable of surviving in the wilds as Richard and I. They also have a great respect for and enjoyment of the outdoors.


All of those thoughts came to me as I watched Cohen pick up a yellowing maple leaf, throw a pebble in to the stream and try to pick up a slug, all the while chattering continuously to Richard, in words barely understandable about everything he saw.
I turned and looked at my daughter and I saw myself 30 years ago, starting to take my own children out into the world. I also saw gratitude that we taught her something she loves and the ability to pass that love on to her own children.
Life really is a circle isn’t it?

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One Response to “The circle of life”

  1. Elizabeth October 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    And I think you both immensely for all that you have taught me. I have learned so much in the past decade and I have you guys to thank for giving me the intelligence and maturity to deal with all of it. I’m so glad you have so much fun teaching Cohen about the world too. He might not be able to tell you exactly how he feels, but his actions speak for themselves. Thanks for the fun morning!

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