Sunday, October 14, 2012

Adventure Number 40: The circle of life

See any fish?
Ever since Natalie was a year old, every fall her and I have taken a trip to the Puntledge River. Regardless of the weather, the circumstances or what have you, a father daughter trip to see the salmon in the river is a special time for us both. It has been neat to see how she reacts to the life and death struggles of the various species of Pacific salmon as they fight the odds to return to their natal rivers to spawn, die and nourish the surrounding area, bringing nutrients from the vast Pacific Ocean hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometers inland.
Puntledge River
Our afternoon started off with a great time going bowling with our friends Amanda and Niam at the local alley. We rarely participate in this sport, and you know, we found it very enjoyable. It is not that expensive compares to many other activities, like going to a movie, more on par with a trip to the swimming pool. With far less people and screaming children. My kind of place. Plus you get to toss a big ball around, made out of rock. Awesome. Maybe I should join the league. We talked about running up to the Puntledge River hatchery to visit the salmon, and observe them in the viewing room. Unfortunately the hatchery was just closing as we arrived so we had to change plans spur of the moment. I suggested going to Puntledge Park to see the salmon in a natural habitat and we could get close to them as they struggled to swim up Morrison Creek.
Spawned out Pink salmon
It has been a very tough fall for our early arriving salmon species. We basically no rain for around three months, the rivers were running at hardly a trickle. The water that was running, being so shallow and slow, has the potential to be fatally warm for the fish, as well as being low in oxygen. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had just shut the river down to sport fishing to lower the stress on these fish that had entered the river. I am not a participant in this fishery for many reasons but it is quite a tourist draw for visitors to come and sample do it yourself salmon fishing. Locals like it too, as it gives some a chance to harvest a few for the smoker, fish they other wise would have no chance.
A dead crawdad
The odour of decaying salmon was apparent immediately as we open the truck doors. The familiar smell of fall that all of Courtenay is draped in come early November during a strong chum run. These large salmon come in the thousands and leave a mass of nutrient rich corpses that take several weeks to compost enough to alleviate the odour. Natalie did not appreciate the smell that hit her nose. I explained what it was and she still wrinkled her freckled sniffer. As we wandered the free stone banks of the flow, I explained the life cycle of the various salmon, why the pinks were smaller than the springs, the name of a spring is really a chinook, how the bodies of fish feed the forests along the river, along with the insects and, in turn, the alevin after they emerge from the gravel in the spring. She seemed slightly interested in the facts and the circle of life. But then she would say "Ewwww" as she observed a fish with no eyes or fungus growing on its carcass.
Peaking at the chum in Morrison Creek
We walked along the edge until we were forced back onto the trail because of the foliage growing over the riffle. We meandered our way towards Morrison creek and the shallower water so we could see the fish in action. The fall colors in this municipal park are amazing and to be seen. Big Leaf maple, red alder,  and cottonwood all line the banks, along with Douglas fir, Grand fir and various shrub species. To our excitement a dozen chum were moving about we had a great view of their actions. Natalie got close as she could with out getting right into the water with them. Years ago she never would have been that brave and scared away. Her maturity and growing bravery is making the adventures much easier and so much fun for us both.
Big Leaf Maple
We played around a bit on the walk back. This adventure was not long, one of the shortest to date, but we still got out and did something that is so special to us both and we got to have a nice relaxed day around the house today. I can't believe we only need 12 more to complete this year of adventure. What will we attempt next week. Stay tuned. Find Adventure.

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