They sat quietly, the boat drifting slowly, watching a ripple line on the clear and sunless water. A run of humpback salmon was entering the river to spawn and two or three feet beneath the surface they could see hundreds of silvery fish, pressed tight, moving secretly, almost stealthily, with a kind of desperate urgency, to reach a destination they knew not where. They watched, fascinated until they had passed and for a moment they were not sure that this silent happening had occurred at all.
The boy and his grandparents were fishing in the Queen Charlotte Strait north of Vancouver, British Columbia. The Kwakiutl people of the North Coast call the salmon “the swimmer”, and he usually enters the river at night on the way upstream to spawn in the place where he was born. On the way, he passes thousands of fingerlings on their way downstream to the open sea where they are free. Nobody knows how far they go or where. When the time comes to return, their bodies tell them, and those hatched in the same stream separate from all the others and come home together.
They pulled their boat up onto the sandy shoreline to eat their lunch, and as ate they told the boy stories of the Indian people who have lived along these shores for millenia. “I would like a tattoo” the boy said . The grandmother told him he should have something to show what spirit lives in him, in the way the Indians did to show their family clans. “But what am I” asked the boy “You are a salmon” said the grandmother. “Why is that?” asked the boy. “You have been a swimmer since you were a small child, so you are a salmon. If you like, I will design a small salmon tattoo for you. It will be your clan sign”
The boy grew up and finished his education and was ready to leave his family and earn his own living far away from his home. He was leaving his boyhood behind and would not find it again. As the grandmother said goodbye, she said to him “Be mindful of your salmon tattoo. It will remind you that you must always return to your home.”
May you all walk in balance. Aho