This Offbeat Life
New Economy Cooking
Backpacking by Bus

McBee recommends:


Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast.


First Fish, First People : Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim by Judith Roche (Editor), Meg McHutchison (Editor)


Field Guide to the Pacific Salmon by Robert Steelquist



Food, Sex & Death on the Dungeness
A Greek Tragedy in the Brine

by Dave McBee
photographs by Dave McBee

wasteWell, that got your attention, didn't it?

John Steinbeck once proposed that if you ever had cause to get even with a bank, all you needed was a safe deposit box and one fresh salmon. Can't imagine what a good, ripe one in an enclosed space at room temperature would do to the olfactories; it can be bad enough outside. Case in point: walk along the spawning beds of the upper Dungeness River and its tributaries right about now, kneel down, and inhale a hearty snootfull. (Jeez! What a sucker! Will you do anything a stranger tells you to do? Send us your bank account numbers and a copy of your signature) When the air currents are just right the stench can tickle your gag reflex, but in contexts piscatorial and environmental, it's the sweet aroma of a good healthy run of spawning native salmon. And you can get there real easily from Seattle by car or by bus. Hell, you could take your bicycle on the bus and go there as a day trip (either staying on the logging roads that weave through the drainage, or ditching your bike behind one of their many trees). For transit information, see Backpacking by Bus, Port Angeles Hub, Dungeness Forks.

If you head up there during the next couple weeks, you may want to pack in all your water, as every watercourse I passed was, in essence, cold running dead and dying fish soup. Wasn't sure how long I'd have to boil it so that it didn't taste like it looked. Didn't want to find out. Call me a wuss. It was comforting, however, to consider that any bear in the neighborhood was doubtlessly too stuffed with spawned-out salmon (saw plenty of leftovers) to expend any effort trying to snitch my meager stores of stale bread, turkey jerky, and M&Ms. Hung the bag anyway (there will always be more mice than anything else).

Lurid Confessions:

I'll admit that I've been badmouthing meteorological bitchkitty la Nina all year (see, there I go again!), but, finally, someone has discovered a supposed silver lining to accompany its dark cloud. High water levels in northwest rivers and streams (results of la Nina's bigass snowfalls and late runoff) may be enabling returning salmon to more easily reach preferred spawning sites.

But further research has revealed that reaching the very site where it was spawned is only a goal in two of the five salmon species; the rest are more catholic in their reproductive itinerary, i.e., they'll spawn wherever's convenient, much like those bipedal hominids we've seen so much of late. So, high water levels are not all that important to spawning salmon. And in addition, heavy rains and flooding in the fall can silt up rivers, killing hatchlings.

So, much will depend on whether or not, and when, la Nina returns as predicted this fall.

Fish Sex:

I truly feel sorry for the salmon: they get to mate once, then they die (the exception to this would be the male chum salmon, who prowl around, mating with as many females as they can find for up to two weeks, and then they die). And that bout of sex that is the final act of their desperate lives consists of spewing forth into the cold water above a patch of gravel. This is sex worth dying for?

daveAuthor Dave McBee's sex life isn't nearly as tragic as that of the salmon. And he can ride a bus to get to the headwaters when he has occasion to spawn.


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