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There are still a few salmon spawning in the creek near our home. In November.

Spawning salmon, Southern Oregon. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Bear Creek, spawning chinook. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

This is such a revelation to me, I return to the creek as often as I can, just to watch the big chinook.

It’s plain they’re struggling.

They’ve travelled more than 300 miles to reach this place, seeking a safe haven for their young.

They’ll die here. Already, their bodies are transforming, losing flesh and muscle even as they protect their newly-deposited eggs.

I’ve always found this remarkable.

When I first saw great coho spawn in the wild rivers of British Columbia, I wept to see so much death. I didn’t know much then about the miracle of life in spawning salmon.

Older now, I am thrilled just to see a single fish in these urban waters. (I watch the salmon from a bridge at a six-lane overpass, stunned by the noise of an interstate highway below.)

I appreciate the salmon’s resilience, and the strength it takes to swim so far, just to create life.

I marvel at the DNA of a species that endures so much near the end of life, to make way for the next generation.

These fish have braved rough weather, pollution, human interference, and terrible destruction to their habitat, to reach this creek, far from the Pacific Ocean.

Yet they splash in Bear Creek as if at play. (Another salmon-watcher captured this video.)

I’m happy that the autumn rains have helped filter the creek for “our” salmon. Bear Creek is usually so dense with sediment and, sadly, refuse, that it’s as thick and muddy as molten chocolate most of the year.

For weeks, what appeared to be a dirty, over-polluted stream has swollen and cleared. I’m happy to see the salmon in cleaner water; happy to see them swishing over their redds. I’m happy to see these chinook playing and working in couples; I’m ridiculously happy to see all the effort the males put in to protect their offspring.

Bear Creek is proof of community.

It proves that when people work together to improve their environment, to clear away mistakes of the past (dams); to make improvements, based on science and experience (curbing riverside development); to change bad habits (polluting, from ocean to river to stream); and to learn from their mistakes, they can rebuild.

I’m learning about the Rogue River from a few fish. I’m learning that our little creek only looks small because of farms, suburbs and cities that have long abused it.

Spawning salmon, swimming upstream against all odds, to fulfill their destiny, are teaching me more about my community and my adopted country than I realized.

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