I am swimming, buried in names. Cyclostomata, myxiniformes, petromyzontiformes, gnathostomata, chondrichtyes, elasmobranchii, selachii, lamniformes, batoidea, torpediniformes, holocephali, chimaeriformes. I can't get out from under them and one by one they disappear and I am left floating in dark, dead waters.
I wake up with different words in my head. Oncorhynchus tschawytscha, Oncorhynchus kisutch, Oncorhynchus keta, Oncorhynchus gorbusha, Oncorhynchus nerka, Oncorhynchus clarki, Oncorhynchus mykiss. We haven't studied them yet but I know how to trace their lineage. Family: Salmonidae. Order: Salmoniformes. Class: Actinopterygii. Phylum: Chordata. Kingdom: Animalia. Growing up we had a fruit bowl with salmon swimming all over the sides in joyous moon-shaped curves and cursive words around the rim of the bowl: Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye.
Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye.
5am stares at me in a new way these days. Anxiety slips in like always and I start hammering away at the things I can't control. But unlike before my new anxieties are informed, rational, unavoidable. I cannot talk them down or away. And so 5am becomes an invitation, a reason to wake up and start working, a quiet time where no one needs anything, and my world is contained in a double bed with our dog nestled between us.
Every time I wake up the first thing I do is check that everyone is breathing. In biology we learned it's called tidal breathing, the way we breath when we're at rest. When we sleep we become oceans, ebbing and flowing in alien worlds all our own.
It didn't rain enough this year and the Chinook couldn't run up the rivers. Trapped, they were exposed to the parasite Cryptobia salmositica, causing die-offs in at least four river basins. My new anxiety says: it's too late.
There's not enough snow on the mountains. My new anxiety says: it's too late, it's done, it's over.
I won't be out of school for another two years. My new anxiety says: by that time, it will be far too late. Everything will be gone. I used to tap my fingers on each name along the rim of the fruit bowl and whisper: Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye -- like a prayer. Like a heart beat. I memorized the words before I knew what they meant.
Before I knew they meant life. Life against all odds. Life with the rush of the current down streams and ever-widening rivers. Briny, salty, voracious life. Then coming home. Surging upriver against the current. Fighting with every fiber, every muscle, every cell. Giving life for more life. Giving life even in death. Sacrifice and salvation. Life well-lived.
I want to live like a salmon. I want to fight like that.