The Running of the Kokanee

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and couldn’t see what harm it would do. Sure, I’ll take my chances, I’ll run with the salmon!

All a person has to know about swimming upstream, or down for that matter, is to watch out for rocks and overhanging trees. The high walls stretching down to the powerful current were chocked full of spectators. The participants began to bunch up, a turn in the river, the current swift, then peaceful, now tranquil as we float out at a snail’s pace to engage the Kokanee.

There…just off the right bank…spawning salmon and lots of them! Kokanee for sure, angry pent up emotions from the long hot summer flaring out through their lethal gills. They are moving toward the swimmers, bunched up still now breaking in panic at the sight of the fish.

I remember reading about this type of thing going on in Pamploma when I was a boy but not since the Heeny Tick Festival Flea Circus have I witnessed  such brute bloodlust squatting on our sacred Colorado soil.

Sadly the stragglers are dead meat in minutes, dragged to the depths of the cold, heartless stream like marshmallows at the mercy of a hungry black bear, like chokeberries toasting on a goldbrick fire. The survivors scurry back and forth into the water, clutching banks and willows vowing to stay on dry land forevermore.

It’s a lot like body surfing except that the salmon are the waves. Sure, there were moments when I was scared to death but, hey, everyone needs a little peril, a bite of fright in their lives. The icy cold water, the flags and banners of the crowds, the slimy Kokanee bent on death in the afternoon…it’s a lot different than TV.

If you simply use your head and concentrate…

What! I’m cut. I can feel the blood and see red in the water. I’ve been finned! Oh my god…I’m going down, the hooves of the beast cracking my scull like a shellfish in a blender, like keilbasa about to go under the knife. Trampled in the backwaters of the Slate, the East…what’s the difference now. Left for dead by fish with a morose, senseless agenda. Gored by the scale of it all.

Suddenly a surge of water lifts me. I pull myself out of the water and flag down a tuna boat and hop on.

That night in the ship’s stateroom the captain and his seductive wife told me of the hundreds of souls lost to the spawning each year.

“And they’ll be back for more next fall, them that survived the onslaught.”

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