Yesterday I saw spawning salmon skittering through the shallows of a creek. I watched a spent fish tumble downstream, its decomposing body twirling in the current. Then, while climbing a ravine, I came across a salmon carcass on a ledge of green moss. The fish had been gnawed by woodland creatures. Ocean nutrients stored in this salmon's body are now cycling through the forest, and a new generation of fish is encased in eggs amid the gravels of the stream. When the salmon fry grow into smolts, they will venture out to sea; they will feed and grow and then return to the river of their birth, surging through rapids and leaping over waterfalls, completing a journey that curves time’s arrow in a circle.
In Colorado, where I lived before moving to Oregon, seasonal differences were dramatic. Blizzards piled up snow in winter. Hillsides burst with greenery in spring. Wildflowers erupted in summer. Aspen torched with color in autumn. On Oregon’s North Coast, a soggy season saturated by storms gives way to damp months sprinkled with showers. Against the green constancy of the rainforest, seasonal markers in the Northwest are subtle: pickleweed reddens along beaches in autumn, trillium shows white petals among sword ferns in spring.
I miss seeing golden aspen groves in the Rockies lose their leaves before snowdrifts bury them. I miss the spring sun swelling rivers with snowmelt, and summer heat turning fields crisp and tan. But I like watching the coast’s cycles play out as fish return each season. A salmon's journey to the spawning grounds where it was born marks the passage of time while the wheel of life revolves in the emerald forest.