By Elizabeth Carothers Herron
Every year on Valentine’s Day I celebrate the return of the steelhead, Oncorhynchus mykiss (their species name). Mykiss – what could be more perfect?
Whether the run is late or early, on Valentine’s Day they are always in the river, thrusting upstream, in the laguna, in the creeks, heading home in an ecstatic urgency, driven back to their natal beds to spawn. If you watch the creeks in patient silence you will see them. If you listen at night, you will hear them leaping, slapping cradles in the gravel bars.
They are here right now, as you read this – a thread of the culture of this place that stitches you to the people who came before you, just as they stitch the land to the sea, returning nutrients with their very bodies. The carcasses of those that die feed critters all the way up the food chain – that osprey flying overhead a month from now, those river otters I saw last year up at Fitch Mountain.
When you reach for your beloved, think of them. Half in air, he stutters across shallows, rushing to reach her. Veiled in dark water, she glides over the gravel. They are dancing when your hands entwine. He circles over her back. They weave the water in figure eights. She turns on her side, a rainbow through rain.
To hold them in your heart is to value an old companion. To hold them in your heart is to keep clean cold water in our creeks. To hold them in your heart is to protect our streams from toxins and sediment, to keep our hills forested, to restore our urban waterways.
Once by streamside with my lover, we saw a steelhead fly up from the froth of a waterfall, fall back, leap again, fall back, leap again. Love and instinct. Without them, what would life be?