Steelhead Valentine (By Elizabeth Carothers Herron?)
Poem by John McKeon
Every year on Valentine's Day I celebrate the return of the steelhead,
Oncorhynchus mykiss (their species name) . Mykiss-what could be more perfect?
Whether the run is late or early, on Valentine's Day they are always in the
river, thrusting upstream, in the laguna, in the creeks, heading home in an
ecstatic urgency, driven back to their natal beds to spawn. If you watch the
creeks in patient silence you will see them. If you listen at night, you
will hear them leaping, slapping cradles in the gravel bars.
They are here right now, as you read this-a thread of the culture of this
place that stitches you to the people who came before you, just as they
stitch the land to the sea, returning nutrients with their very bodies. The
carcasses of those that die feed critters all the way up the food
chain-that osprey flying overhead a month from now, those river otters I
saw last year up at Fitch Mountain.
When you reach for your beloved, think of them. Half in air, he stutters
across shallows, rushing to reach her. Veiled in dark water, she glides over
the gravel. They are dancing when your hands entwine. He circles over her
back. They weave the water in figure eights. She turns on her side, a
rainbow through rain.
To hold them in you heart is to value an old companion. To hold them in
yourheart is to keep clean cold water in our creeks. To hold them in your
heart is to protect our streams from toxins and sediment, to keep our hills
forested, to restore our urban waterways.
Once by streamside with my lover, we saw a steelhead fly up from the froth
of a waterfall, fall back, leap again, fall back, leap again. Love and
instinct. Without them, what would life be?
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