This weekend, Lisa and I went to Carkeek Park, a Seattle park on the shore of Puget Sound. I was looking forward to getting back to the beach, as it was my first trip back to a park on the water's edge since getting back from Asia. We parked on the eastern edge, away from the shore, and walked down the hill toward the beach, through some forested paths. Carkeek Park does have some nice woods in it, and autumn still clung to some of the trees, though winter was definitely well on its way.
As we approached Pipers Creek, which runs through the park to the shore, we noticed a lot of activity, including a tent. We quickly realized it was spawning season for the salmon, and that there were quite a few salmon in the stream-- looking down into the clear water, we could see a few large chum salmon swimming around.
We walked away from the creek for a bit past a salmon hatchery, a large brick building which looked oddly creepy and abandoned through the bare branches of the trees. Then, as the trail looped back toward the car, we turned around and headed back to the stream, following it down toward the beach. As we went further, the smell of dead fish got stronger, and we began to see a lot of dead fish along the side of the stream. A few park workers were wading in the street, getting dead fish out of the water and placing them to the side, and in the water, we could see salmon in various states of "disrepair" making their way up the stream, and in some cases, actively spawning. In those cases, two or more fish would be actively swimming side by side, occasionally thrashing about, so we could see little but the churning of the water. At a few points, we saw some loose eggs-- little pink things the size of peas-- scattered among the rocks and pebbles of the riverbed.
When salmon begin swimming upstream, their scales are silver and gray, often with splashes of bright color-- chum salmon males, for example, have a distinct tiger stripe pattern on their scales. But as they come upstream, their scales begin to wear off, and they start to die-- their bodies don't regenerate from wounds and scrapes, like the kind gotten from scraping against the shallow bottom of Pipers Creek. They begin to look ragged, almost like zombie fish, their silvery scales giving way to scarred pink flesh. Along the creek, we saw salmon in all stages of decay, from seemingly fresh out of ocean to dead and pink, rotting on the side of the creek.
I, for one, am quite glad that humans don't have a similar system of reproduction.
Finally, we made our way through a marshy area, over the railroad tracks that follow the shoreline, and to the beach, covered in driftwood, pebbles, and the occasional shell. There were plenty of seagulls hanging out in the inlet of Pipers Creek, some of them dining on the scattered salmon carcasses that lay on the beach. The beach was fairly crowded with people, despite the chill in the air-- the Sun was peeking through the clouds, and it was a nice day, despite the rain that had been predicted.
We hung out on the beach for a while, then turned around and retraced our steps back to the car. I like photo expeditions like this, where we find something unexpected-- in this case, the annual salmon run. It was quite a sight to see, an odd mix of rebirth and death-- nature in all its stark, scary beauty.