Salmon Dreams

By Dylan Tomine

At night I dream of salmon gliding through heavy seas, turning toward a faint scent of their birth rivers; in brackish bays feeling the pull of lunar motion and a taste of sweetwater; beneath swirling canyon pools, rain spackling the surface and silver bubbles streaking past like shooting stars.

Under high-summer sun, I think of salmon in more calculating terms. Where are they on this tide? How deep? What will they take? But I have waking dreams as well, of the Elwha’s legendary 100-pound Chinook salmon (Will they return now that the dams are gone?), of sockeyes spawning in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, of the staggering numbers of fish that once filled Puget Sound.

I think of deep-ocean elements found a thousand miles from the sea, carried on Nature’s nutrient conveyer belt—migrating salmon—high into distant mountain ranges. I think of traditional First Salmon celebrations, and a 10,000-year story of humans and fish evolving together. I think of my own life, from early memories of fishing with my father, to the places and people I’ve come to know in the years since, all measured in terms of salmon. And of course, I think of my young children and our shared connection to these fish. 

Such thoughts and dreams, though, do not come without concern. Or maybe it’s fear. Will my generation bear witness to the last wild salmon runs? Our growing population appears relentless in its destructive powers. We harm salmon through neglect, with our impermeable pavement, energy needs and resource extraction. And we harm them out of love, with misguided hatchery “supplementation,” non-selective fisheries and open-water fish farms. Salmon conservation often feels like plugging one leak in the dam (a fitting, if ironic, metaphor) only to see two more spring up just out of reach.

But then, I think of my kids again, and theirs. My mind wanders back to visions of enormous Chinook salmon powering up through free-flowing Elwha rapids, of sockeye schools cruising the air-clear waters of high Alpine lakes, of wave after wave of salmon pouring into Puget Sound. And I dream of my kids, and theirs, returning to meet them.



Dylan Tomine is a Patagonia Ambassador and the author of Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table. He lives with his family on an island in Puget Sound.