salmon spawning

Down the Deadly River (videos)


There were 20 of us on the barge, standing, as we drifted into the river. We were on an excursion during the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. I had never been here before. It was more like a creek, with green bushed cliffs on either side. But the silence. And the wildness around us, not a person for miles. Just us. And——this:

We held our breath, we stood quiet, because it felt . …. holy?


They’re salmon of course. Pink salmon, in Telrod Cove, ten miles from Harvester Island. They’ve come (late) to the river of their birth to spill and milt their eggs, the bright skein carried like berries in their bellies. Alaska throbs and swells with wild salmon every summer. This season, fisherman caught 213 million salmon.

Salmon--fishermen in tons of fish.jpg
HIWW 2019--Seiner with fish.png

(And my family, what did we catch? Just a thimble-full of this ocean of fish.)

213 million will help feed the world. But don’t worry! Hundreds of millions more swam past the nets to return to their birth beds to spawn. Everywhere I look this fall on Kodiak, every river and salmon stream, there it is: uncountable abundance.


We don’t see or hear about creation’s abundance very often. We don’t associate nature today with surfeit, excess in these anxious days of extinctions, species-counting, mammal, fish and avian declines. (The Atlantic just reported a loss of 3 billion birds in N. America since 1970.)

But this story is about more than uncommon abundance. There it was around the next corner, this next part of the story:

The salmon story is also about endurance, the power of instinct, About finishing your life course, no matter how hard, no matter how high the obstacles.

And we know the last chapter of this story, how it all ends.

dead salmon.JPG

Salmon--dead, white gross.JPG

I want to say this is beautiful. A creature who lives and survives and fights nearly insurmountable obstacles to migrate thousands of miles back to the same river that birthed it. To arrow upstream, to lay the pearly eggs, to die. And in dying, to feed the bears, the gulls, the eagles. Which enriches the soil, the whole ecosystem. And those eggs will erupt and send more salmon to our nets, our tables.

We see resurrection here. Life emerging out of Sacrificial death.

But when you stand there, awash in the stench of rotten flesh, you cannot dress up death in a pretty circle-of-life skirt. It’s ugly. Hideous. The fish are zombies, the living dead, who take too long to die. No one would choose it.

So we are silent, hushed as we visit the dying grounds. We understand: death in any form deserves grief.

I leave us here this week, reverent, beside the river. I’m not rushing us to the feast, to the table heavy with bright salmon.

Something has died so we can eat. Look. See. Be humbled.

Just say, “Grace.”

HIWW--on river bank 2019.jpg
salmon--dead chum in water.jpg

Thank you dear friends, for being here with me. I pray you find a moment of awe, humility and thanks here.

(Next week I fly to France to lead a women’s conference. Please pray for me? thank you!!)