It's a perfect fall day, just the other side of Indian Summer. Balmy still, but the fading has begun: temperature, light, color.
The leaves have just begun to fall in earnest, so that half remain on the trees while the other half form a softly glowing carpet. A yellow brick road made of big leaf maple leaves gone from lemon yellow to sun yellow to treasure chest gold. The effect is one of perpetual light in spite of the high gray sky. I leaf-kick shuffle my way along, not caring whether I find Oz or not.
A sudden gust of wind sends leaves pouring from trees, whirling around me in a surreal snowstorm of giant gold flakes. I want to go airborne with them, and lift my arms just in case it might be possible.
The park is nearly empty, one of the things I love about these autumn walks. Just two days ago, as I was searching for spawning salmon, I startled a bald eagle who flew lazily up from the gravel banks of the the river. We were looking for the same thing, but for very different reasons. I'm searching for the magic and wonder of giant silvers returned from the salt sea to their freshwater birthplace to complete the circle of their lives. He was searching for an easy meal.
Today as I look around the small grove of paper birches to the spawning grounds, an odor catches my attention. A faint whiff of death inviting scavengers to a feast. Hoping that the bald eagle might still be hanging around, I follow the tendrils of rot to the bank of the river where I find, just at the edge, the source.
He's huge. As long as my arm, and perfectly formed - fleshy and firm looking. The first thing that catches my eye is his mouth. The hooked snout, curled over a lower jaw, both full of sharp dog-like teeth. Salmon stop eating once they head from their ocean home to their original birth place in the fresh water rivers where they will spawn. The teeth are to fight for female attention.
His eye is still dark and alive looking. Clear and liquid. Looking skyward. Seeing all that cannot be seen in this life.
He is the color of fallen dogwood leaves - a rose blush meant to be attractive to the mate who will help him create new life. The rose is muted with death mushroom circles of grayish white that began forming on his journey up the river. His body dying even as he was preparing to create new life.
I can't stop looking at him - the perfect beauty of his death. As beautiful as the brilliance of the dying leaves pushed from their branches by unborn buds.
Soon the trees will be completely bare. The rains will extinguish the lights from the fallen leaves as they feed the soil for the next generation. Soon the river will flood the salmon's remains away, whatever the scavengers have not consumed. Remains that will ultimately nourish his offspring when they hatch in the months to come. Soon winter and darkness will fall, giving us all rest as a new season prepares to be born.
photo from Flickr