Once a salmon broke the surface of the water and kept right on going. Mile after mile it had battled against tides and rivers to reach this point. Thunderous cascades and sharp rocks had taken their toll, wearing away its strength and forcing it to use up reserves it never knew it had. Then, just when it thought itself at the limits of endurance, all of those trials had fallen away as quickly and completely as if they’d been a recurrent nightmare from which it had finally awakened. Finally escaped. Escaped not just from the bears and the eagles that waited to snag its kind by the thousands as they fought their way upstream to spawn, nor even from the stream itself, so wild with glacial melt, but from the wilder impulse that drove it to risk everything against these hazards in such determined struggle. Gaining altitude now, looking down on the tops of giant firs receding below it, the salmon felt the forces that had dictated its life for years fade like the beads of water drying on its scales. Those forces had sent it from shallow creeks to the unfathomed sea, only to bring it back again to complete a cycle there’d been no refusing, a cycle within cycles within more cycles as generations followed one another to the rhythm of experience. An entire species bound up in each fish’s return. But no more. Not for this salmon. It had slipped the pull of the earth and felt as light as the air around it, free of the laws of birth, maturity, and decline that had governed every move in its life until now. Defying both time and biology, it was no longer condemned to ending its days in slow water, wounded and grotesquely aged, the color of burnt spirit. With unrelenting willpower, one could break free of nature, it seemed, and make the leap to a realm of celestial fish-flight. One could wrench oneself from the troublesome facts of existence, leaving behind all those former companions still bound by the patterns of life and become a soaring denizen of the clouds or the rarest ether instead. There was just one problem the salmon faced as it headed into the great beyond. It couldn’t breathe up here.
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans