Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hamma Hamma

Hamma Hamma is a Native American term, meaning stinky, which is used to describe the smell of rotting salmon carcasses.

Every year I try to make a pilgrimage to a local salmon spawning stream. Last year I was a little late to see many live fish, but the trip wasn’t a total waste because I did come across a black bear – the first black bear I’ve ever seen outside of captivity.

This year my visit was fairly tame. I found quite a few large and very much alive salmon thrashing their way upstream. These Chinook salmon are pretty well camouflaged against the pebbly stream bottom, so they are difficult to photograph with a no-frills digital camera.

There is something comforting in seeing the cycle of life and death play out. To see the fish carry nutrients back to the forest and the forest dwelling creatures. It is refreshing.

What I find disturbing is the method used to count the returning salmon. A fence is placed across the stream and seemingly* no fish are allowed to pass upstream until someone takes the time to come out and count and then let the fish past the barricade. Meanwhile, the fish try over and over again to jump up stream. Some die trying. Some have just given up and deposited their eggs in the pool below the barricade. It makes me sad that we feel we must control nature to such an extreme, when we could instead be counting for specific time periods and using statistics to extrapolate the full number of returning salmon. With minds brilliant enough to comprehend calculus, we still resort to brute force.

* I didn’t observe any way for the larger fish to pass upstream through an electronic counting device.


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