I joined the Explorer last year in October — just in time to miss peak fall foliage. So, this is my first full fall back on the East Coast.
We never find things, even seasons, as we left them. This year’s first frost was colder than I remember first frosts. The leaves are now both brighter than I remember them but also not as bright. And part of today seemed like just about the warmest fall day ever.
That’s by no means the gospel. I know the tricks memories play. Once, I reported a story on how people thought there was more rain than usual one winter, but actually there was less.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about returns. I suspect many of us have in recent months, wondering when things can return to normal, whether they will, and even whether “normal” as it was is worth returning to.
As my colleague Mike Lynch wrote in his own newsletter last week, we’re visiting the Boquet River this week because salmon have been returning here to spawn, tentatively, after decades of local extinction and being separated from their natural habitat by dams.
There are a few more weeks for the fall salmon run to happen, but at the moment, the water is low and so is the number of salmon.
We’ve been talking about a salmon story for a while here at the Explorer. Before starting on this one, I spent time reading other people’s work and also watching movies about the state of the modern fishery.
But it wasn’t until this morning that I began to wonder why we seem to enjoy salmon stories so much. Some animals get more attention than others. We like the devotion of penguins or the intelligence of elephants. What is it about salmon?
Maybe it’s just that salmon are delicious.
But perhaps the appeal is that salmon, like us, return to ancient things before they fade away.
Maybe it’s that salmon defy what we know about rivers and time itself. They swim upstream. They go back to a river because it’s the same river, something the Greek philosophers said we couldn’t do — it is “not possible to step twice into the same river,” Heraclitus supposedly said. Perhaps it’s because they return to the river where they were born to die and to give birth, creating a loop from what Marilyn Monroe sang about as a dead end in “The River of No Return.”
Or perhaps we get comfort from the idea that things can return to normal; that we can do something to improve a river or anything else that undoes the things we did to mess it up. As comforting as that is, on a day where I did not see any salmon, I suspect it’s also rarely true.