Returning Home: Sockeye Salmon Fight Their Way Upstream

The author reflects on her beloved childhood lake home, and the annual struggle of salmon to swim upstream to their spawning ground.

| August/September 1995

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    The fabled struggle upstream to their spawning grounds is both the end and the beginning of the sockeye salmon life cycle.

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Throughout my wandering years Shuswap Lake was the geographical center around which my life orbited. With stunning regularity I heard it call and with a deep yearning I returned to touch down in the place where I had been born. I returned home.

In 1974, dressed in a massive muskrat coat, high red boots, and a brimmed hat pinned up at the front with a serpent brooch, I flew home from Paris. I was 22 years old. I came home with the smell of roasted chestnuts and Vincent Van Gogh's self-portrait still lingering in my mind. I came home with a treasure chest of stories and an empty purse. I intended to refill it once I got a job planting trees.

Seeking solitude, I retreated to the beach where I breathed in deeply the rich and healing air. Sitting on a rock, I nestled up to the waves and let the swirl of water wash my mind and restore my peace. This was the same shore where as a toddler I had tripped, tasted rocks, and experienced the ecstasy of the blue and green embrace of the natural world.

Sitting still, I listened to the snow melt. Yet how well I knew the perils of lingering too long. If spring began to sway forth, as hypnotic as the flute to a cobra, I knew that I would get stuck at Shuswap Lake. I wouldn't be able to move again. But I was still infatuated with the faraway and possessed by a restlessness that, if harnessed, could have moved mountains. But once I set foot on the shore of Shuswap Lake, I felt myself melt into the land. I had been deprived of this place for much of my childhood. After my father died, my mother had found work in a nearby city and we moved. My sister and brother had also suffered a lifelong denial of their birthright-to live and grow beneath the Shuswap sun and moon. We could only experience it in brief and dazzling summer displays.

Neither brother nor sister fought the urge to settle here. They each took a token trip abroad, then promptly returned and began to build homes and raise families.

The Sockeye Salmon Return Home

Our community recently celebrated a slightly more significant homecoming—one which has been recurring for thousands of years-ever since the glaciers of the Ice Age carved out the land as we now know it. North Shuswap's Adams River is home to the world's largest return of sockeye salmon to a single river. As many as 300,000 people from dozens of countries come each season to witness this ritual of return, which peaks every four years.


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