Eulachon

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shadow of the seed
shadow of the seed

Eulachon, Smelt, Candlefish have had the best run in years up the Sandy River. Eulachon is the Chinook name for the fish. I remember as a boy hearing the stories of friends who would stay up all night filling truckloads of fish to dry, the rivers were so full when they ran. Elder families have their individual special ways of preparing the fish – – An art that is deep in the heart of the landscape. All life was put on hold when they ran – this small fish has been a center to worlds… In 2011 after the almost complete disappearance of eulachon in the southern end of its range – which it lended it’s name to – it was officially listed as a threatened species.

After 3-5 years at sea they, like Salmon, come to offer themselves in a sacred giveaway ceremony in our freshwaters. We heard rumors of the runs and went to visit. Walking along the river the dead were scattered along the banks. On accomplishing the release of their eggs in the water columns of still waters – they die surrendering what is left of their own lives to the land.

Eulechon Giveaway
Eulechon Giveaway

As one walks along the River evidence of the giveaways are all along the shore and still waters.

Great Blue Heron

Heron is quite pleased.

From the steel bridge that crosses the river on the old highway there is an island. Flood waters have left a giant sized teeter totter. Tried to convince a few bold youth to put it in motion but there were no takers this day. A bit symbolic of the state of the earth with the eulechon. Dredging and dams have changed the way the river bottoms form and this together with the warming of waters associated with the weakening of shade in riparian zones and climate change may be parts of the story. The fish are 15% oil and as a result have high deposits of chemical toxins. Detailed studies have not been fully funded as far as we can find.

Giant's Teeter Totter
Giant’s Teeter Totter

Looking into the river it was easy to imagine the fish in the light – harder to see them. But then they appeared in swirls in the shadow of the island.

Eulachon swirling in the last dance...
Eulachon swirling in the last dance…

Like the salmon the eulachon are teaching us about the depths of our connections with the sea. May we listen well – and welcome and open the ways of their many returns.

If you would like to look for a river near you and the historic run times here is a link to the NOAA status report that published historic data on the fish as of 2010.

The fish are known to arrive at the ending of day and to run through the night. It would seem – to emphasize their work with the night. For thousands of years it has been the light of the oil of this fish that was burned in the lamps on the alters of praying people throughout Cascadia and beyond. As we left the river – sun, maple and alder trees came into focus with light connecting dreams of humanity, the sea, the land and the swimming nations that bridge the worlds…

Sunset with the Eulachon run on the Sandy River
Sunset with the Eulachon run on the Sandy River

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8 Comments

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    • thanks :) been dreaming after posting of how for thousands of years oil lamps with eulachon oil were the lights on the alters of the praying people here – and how the spirit light of sea and land have been infused into the cultural imaginations and dreamin… all the places and ways it touches us… with a flickering mostly subconscious encouragement…

  1. Harold Rhenisch March 29, 2013 — 6:02 pm

    Chinook, for sure. Say, did you know that every language up and down the coast had a variation on “oolichan”, as it was that important for the grease trade. One is Ouregon, and that was the one that the Europeans were given on the Great Plains as the name of the great river of the West: The Fraser, as that was the ouregon trail, or the grease trail (in its late Chinook, more precisely glease).Now, isn’t that cool. You guys got the beautiful river and the right name for this place, and we got the right river and a weird name chosen in London!

    • Wow! So let me get this right – Ouregon is a dialect variation on the Eulachon (from Plains Peoples) and the trade of the grease was as big or bigger than that of the Salmon – and gave it’s name to the colonial territory of the Pacific Northwest. And this is one of the ancient names for what English speakers now call the Frasier River…. but is a reference to this source of light and energy from the sea…

  2. amazing tale. (and the fish are cute!)

  3. Great storytelling, thank you.

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