Whitewater Salmon – Photo by Michael Sharp
Maybe you have seen the images of salmon leaping upstream, the ubiquitous silver streak in the white water of some far-off Alaskan stream?
What you never see are the salmon getting ready. There is no really good explanation as to why the pink salmon jump high out of the water and smack back down only to jump again. One explanation claims the females do it to rearrange their egg sacks, another declares they are getting in shape, another says they just want a look around. Whatever the reason, in late July and early August, the pink salmon, also called humpies for the distinctive hump the fish develop prior to spawning, leap and leap, splashing about at all hours of the day and night, all over the anchorage, all around the boat. Everywhere. Nisa is obsessed with salmon. As they school and gather around the boat she peers over the toerail into the water in hopes of catching a glimpse of their shiny green bodies below. When the salmon jump and leap she whimpers and whines in excitement. Dancing and prancing across the deck of Bluewater, she is clearly frustrated that they are so close and so completely out of reach.
A particularly vigorous batch of humpies moved through Otter Cove at the end of July in 2007. Imagine a beautiful setting: tree-covered mountains, moss-covered rocks, still green water, the sun setting languidly at 10:30pm. Inject into this scene ten thousand imaginary, silent Boy Scouts with an unlimited number of fist-sized rocks. These Scouts have but one mission: to exhaust their endless supply of rocks by casting them into the sea. Each and every boy, throwing rocks into the water as fast as he can, indefinitely. Splash, Splash, SplSpash in every direction. If you can envision this, you will have a glimmer of how vigorously the salmon propelled their sleek bodies skyward.
At first it was amusing to watch Nisa try to keep track of all the jumping salmon. She whimpered and growled, groaned and huffed, the salmon just out of reach. Sometimes the jumping fish would collide with the boat. Smack! Bong! Splash! Nisa expressed her frustration. ArF! URrrrrrHuhHuhRRR! ArF! ArF! Eventually it was too much to bear, for us and for the Wonderdog.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, the salmon seemed to rest. I convinced Nisa to come inside; it was time for bed. She lay in her preferred spot, the starboard settee, blissfully drifting into doggy dreamland with her usual deep sigh and roll to her back, when suddenly the Splash, Splash, SplSpash of possessed humpies once again filled the air. Nisa shot straight up from a dead sleep, letting go a booming barrage of WOOF! WOOF! GRR! WOOF! WOOF! before all four feet found purchase on the floor. She bolted through the companionway to the cockpit and on deck faster than a fireman down a pole, the cacophony of leaping humpies driving her crazy.
The up-and-down cycle of Nisa, first asleep, then dashing on deck, continued for hours. I had to stop the madness, so I closed the boat and denied her access to the outside. She could no longer bound out to inspect the latest round of leaping. For a long time she sat at the companionway boards blocking her path, her head tilting left, then right, then left, listening. Pawing at the teak boards, hoping to gain access to the outside world for one last inspection, she voiced her frustration with whines and half-growls. Finally, exhaustion gained the upper hand. She returned to her preferred spot and lay down. Unwilling to admit defeat to the torturous behavior of her aquatic nemesis, she lay awake, eyes open, ears alert. Listening and waiting.
How did it end? The salmon won. They continued to leap and jump. Nisa became a zombie from the stimulation and lack of sleep. We decided to leave Otter Cove to give Nisa and us a break. As we departed into Bainbridge Passage and left the crazed fish behind, Nisa took up her favorite spot on deck, wedging herself between the windlass and the toerail and promptly fell asleep.
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