As my neighbor and I observed the weather two days ago, we were thrilled to see sunshine! Cabin fever had hit us both. I was particularly ready to get out of the apartment since I have been in school for over a month. With all of my classes online, I spend much of my non-working hours in the same room(s), and in the autumn and winter months, the darkness begins to wear on us here in the Seattle area. So, when the sun broke through the clouds and it seemed to be likely that we would have sun the rest of the afternoon, my neighbor and I hopped in the car and drove eastward.
After a delicious lunch and a stop by a small town market for fresh veggies, we noticed a creek flowing freely nearby. So, we slid down the slopes towards the creek, muddying up our walking shoes, and we looked around. What beauty! With the crisp autumn air, the vibrant hues of crimson and goldenrod above and the swiftly flowing creek just a few feet away, we began to maneuver over the stones.
We passed a bridge. Then, a funk rose to my nostrils. A few feet later, my neighbor stopped in her tracks and turned towards me. "Doesn't it smell like fish to you?"
Just before she had spoken, my eyes landed on the rocks near her feet. Oh my! She hadn't even seen it yet.
There at her feet lay a huge, moldy salmon with its eyes gone and most of the meat rotted out. "There's a reason for that," I said, hardly containing my laughter, "look at your feet."
Her own eyes nearly popped out of her head and she shrieked, jumping backwards. I nearly lost my balance and fell onto the fish from laughing so hard at her comment timing and response to our discovery. Quickly, I whipped out my camera and snapped a photo.
As we continued our walk, adjusting to the smell and our surroundings, we realized this was not simply the remains of someone's lunch. We were witnessing the end of the salmon life cycle. Only a few weeks ago, we had seen a neighboring river nearly overflowing with salmon preparing to lay their eggs. Now we were seeing the results of that life-giving effort.
Someone less interested in the macabre probably wouldn't have snapped a picture of the rotting salmon corpse. But I was captivated by its beauty. I still am.
This simple fish is willing to give everything in hopes of new life sprouting forth. There are no guarantees. Even if their eggs are fertilized and sheltered until they mature, the little ones must survive the treacherous journey downstream where predators lurk around every corner. Still, knowing all that the little ones must go through and aware of the probability of failure, the salmon gives up its own life so that others may have the hope for new life.
This image of the salmon carcass gives me new eyes to encounter the Eucharist. This is my body, given for many; this is my blood, shed for all. -- Jesus' willingness to give himself so that others may know the meaning of life -- this is a holy mystery embodied today in a salmon returning to the earth.