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


It had been a cool and sunny morning when the three of us, Dr. Advice and I and our good Canadian friend Frank, had left to somehow entice any local salmon into our small boat.  We had decided to simply lollygag around Quadra Island, perhaps hooking into a salmon, if not, to collect some oysters on the opposite bank and wash them down with a bottle of wine.  It was the middle of the week, and there were few boats in the water.

Discovery Passage, British Columbia is one of the planet’s greenest and most beautiful of destinations.  Habitat of more than fish, bald eagles nest there, and any number of other water fowl.  The trees and vines dip gracefully into the water from time to time, creating small hideaways for small fish to escape the eager beaks of hungry birds.

It clouded over, as it often does in the Pacific Northwest, and Frank shut down the motor midstream.  There seemed to be a hush in the silence, as if something yet unseen were present.  Frank saw them before we did and quietly said, “Don’t move, it’ll be OK—–I think!”

Looking both to our right and to our left, a pod of Killer whales had opted to come check us out, quietly skimming just under the water and close enough to touch.  There were five or six of the beautiful animals, watching us and swimming around the boat.  They played that way for perhaps ten minutes, and then with a final salute, they dove and disappeared.  What a magical moment in time.

Surprisingly, because we were sure the whales had feasted on any salmon to had that day, we caught one on the way to the island, and after gathering a few oysters and building a fire in the barbeque, we spent the rest of the afternoon marveling at our good fortune.

The whale sightings in the ensuing years, while exciting, could never match that day.