Biophilia

  • The fishing has slowed over the last few days giving me some time, after 3 weeks of fishing every day, to think about the summer, what we are doing here and the sleek silver creature that lures us back to the edge of the world each summer. Salmon fill me with wonder. I am engulfed by awe when I think of their amorphous masses undulating in the opaque and turbid water just in front of my cabin, just feet from where I eat and sleep. Even now as I add another piece of wood to the fire and carve up an apple for dessert, salmon are streaming by a stone’s throw from where I sit. I cannot see them but I know they are there, pushing to fulfill their contract with nature.

    E.O. Wilson used the term “biophilia” to describe the attraction, indeed the need, of all living things to interact in some way with other living things––life needs life, physiologically, emotionally and some would argue spiritually. Biophilia motivates me to have plants in my house, a garden in my back yard and to visit wilderness areas, zoos and arboretums. Biophilia also is part of the reason I am here in this tiny cabin on the Ugashik River in remote Western Alaska. I want to witness wilderness on a scale that dwarfs the largest cities and quiets my spirit made restless by traffic, throngs of people, social media, news and the rest of it. This migration of salmon, together with the other runs of salmon around Alaska, is one of the earth’s last great forces. It is a migration like no other and with a confusing finale––all the creatures involved die. But when the bodies have washed downstream and the web of life grown on their rich bodies, new life stirs in day tiny eggs buried deep in river gravel.

    In Meditations on Hunting, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset writes that best way to honor some animals in certain circumstances is to eat them. This is the way of nature and a truth many people find themselves unfortunately distanced from. I am honored to be a part of the rhythm of this river, one more predator queuing up to honor these fish by eating them. With science and common sense, we are able to strike a balance between the long-term health of the river and the needs of people.

    The other day we caught a large king salmon and I could not move past its size. With its sharp teeth, black mouth and massive body, I kept thinking of dinosaurs. This animal was a leviathan of the deep, a creature of amazing beauty but of terrifying size. I like king salmon and I knew I would keep this fish and eat it. But the size of this particular fish made me pause and think long and hard about my movements, the action of catching it, killing it, filleting it and finally eating it. It was time to honor that fish by taking its life and eating it. I thought about all the small fish it has killed to sustain itself through the open seas for half a decade. How this king salmon had honored those fish by eating them just as they had done to even smaller creatures on down down the food chain all the way to the sun’s pure energy. I thought about these things as I went to work ending the salmon’s life and carefully taking each fillet from its sides. I didn’t waist a single piece. After I had filleted the fish, I cut each little scrap of flesh from the bones––those wafer thin pieces are wonderful to pan fry or smoke. The tail, spine and head were laid out on the beach for the approaching high tide to claim where flounder, shrimp and crab would no doubt eat it to nothing in a matter of minutes. As I walked up the beach with 20 pounds of bright flesh in my hands, I had to acknowledge the next step in the ladder of life––where I fit in. While I do not anticipate being any animal’s meal any time soon, I find great comfort in the cells of my body someday rejoining the synergy of life, whenever and however that may happen.

    Biophilia drew the king and I together and we honored one another with both life and death.

    Fish and game has opened fishing but its dark and the wind is howling. I could fish but I prefer to continue stoking the fire, stirring my hot chocolate and thinking about the hundreds of thousands of salmon surging upriver alive and vibrant and in mass in the cold, cloudy water. Tonight I will extol their virtues on paper and tomorrow I will honor a few by catching them. Hopefully they will always honor me with their presence.


    July 18th, 2011 | Traveler | No Comments |

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