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Three salmon return upstream to spawn. Can you see the dark shadows?

The salmon must swim many miles against a swift current
Salmon Life Cycle
by Patricia Green, Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Washington

Today we learned more about salmon and its life cycle. I decided to write a story from the point of view of a salmon as a model for my students and other children incorporating writing, natural history, and science together. It goes like this:

Running Against the Flow
It's time for me to return home; I feel it, and I can taste it. It is time for me to return back to the place where I began. I can't explain just how I know, but I suppose that it is simply a part of how I am made. I have left a more familiar place with saltwater and open seas. In that water I can swim deep and when the storms come, I am safe from it all. Many others are traveling to my home, but we are all coming from different places with a variety of adventures to share.

We must go into an estuary, part of the river that is a combination of salt- and freshwater. Now my real journey begins, because as soon as I sense the change from salt- to freshwater, I will no longer have any need or desire to eat, ever again. It won't be long and my color will change from shimmering silver to a brighter more vibrant color. It's called "ripening." This will occur over a period of time (perhaps even a few months). This is when I just know that the cycle of my life is making its full circle.

I've started up the Skagit River. It's not too difficult. It seems familiar somehow, cold, greenish-blue, arctic. It's singing a song that's different from the sea. I feel the unruly current trying to push me back. That's odd, I don't recall this being so difficult the last time I was here. As each day passes, I continue up the river. Many others like me are attempting to do the same. Some of us have been snatched up by bears. I can usually tell when they are coming, but I am so focused on my journey; yet sometimes it's almost impossible to avoid them.

The eagle on the other hand, they are just plain sneaky and swift. Oh well, I can't waste any extra energy worrying. I have one job to do. I must get home! I'm growing weary of swimming. Sometimes I feel like I gain a few feet, but now I have to stop and rest more often. Oh, there's some woody debris, I'll rest for just one moment. I'm off again.... I will keep going. I must.... It's not too far now. Here's a quiet pool, maybe I won't drift so far backward this time.

Ahh! I see my home. It's now called my spawning ground. The place where I lay my eggs is "the redd." I'm here, and I've done it! Now I must choose two or three good sites to lay my nearly 3,000 eggs. But first I must find just the right man or "buck." If I don't like him, I'll chase him away because I only want the best for my children.

Oh! He seems strong and handsome, all things considered. I'll give him a wink and a smile! Here he comes and he's going to fertilize my eggs. This is a safe area. I'll lay the eggs after using my fins and lying on my side and my mate will help me too. Wow, that took a lot of energy, but I've lost some weight. Well, we're almost done. Now it's our job to protect our eggs until our lives end. We might have a few days; there's no telling for sure.

I can't believe it. Somehow it just seems right to let our cycle take its course. I am beginning to feel very weak. I know that my eggs are doing fine right now.

I must go.... I'm tired, I'm finally home.

And it won't be long before the next generation of young salmon will be traveling down the Skagit toward the sea.

And the cycle of life will continue....

Photos courtesy of Earthwatch