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