The Salmon Life

The remarkable change from cerulean to a deep sunset orange-red seen in photographs by Lisa Hupp and Katrina Mueller in the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The remarkable change from cerulean to a deep sunset orange-red seen in photographs by Lisa Hupp and Katrina Mueller in the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"If there is one thing you need to know, it's salmon."

My friend who had been working as a Sitka Winter Fellow for the past year ended our conversation with these words. Growing up in Hong Kong's concrete jungle, I had formed a sense of place through the built environment rather than animals and plants. It never occurred to understand a community connected through a fish!

Salmon are a very important part of culture in Sitka (as to most communities in Alaska) with the commercial fishing industry and tourism, as well as its importance in Tlingit culture. The four species of salmon that can be found around Sitka are Chum Salmon, King Salmon, Pink Salmon and Sockeye Salmon. These fish lead lives that take them from freshwater streams to the salty seas of the Pacific Ocean, and then somehow back to the very place they were born! Some say that magnetic detection allows them to navigate back to their birthplace. 

 
 

As a result of this, there is an understanding that forest ecosystems are intimately connected with marine ecosystems. Returning salmon transport energy and nutrients from the ocean to the freshwater environment, creating a sort of mutualistic relationship between the two. This understanding of the landscape is so different from how I understand land in Middlebury. Vermont is isolated from the ocean with its Green Mountains and my time there has unconsciously moulded my immediate associations with certain landscapes. I wonder if my project can help me unlearn my hidden biases and eventually those of others?

While I was poking around the interweb, I discovered The Salmon Life. This storytelling initiative celebrates the diverse connections between Alaskans and their salmon through a series of blogs and videos. They have an incredible range of stories from all over Alaska and a few interesting ones from Sitka including Athabaskan woman Audrey Armstrong who teaches the ancient craft of fish skin sewing and artist Cynthia Gibson who created a dress out of 20,000 salmon bones! 

Bowl made of salmon skin. Photograph by Bethany Goodrich.

Bowl made of salmon skin. Photograph by Bethany Goodrich.

Dress made of salmon bones. Photograph by Bethany Goodrich.

Dress made of salmon bones. Photograph by Bethany Goodrich.

I hope you'll take the time to listen to these wonderful stories and as a preview of what's to come as we delve deeper into the sea of Tlingit heritage, check out this traditional Salmon Dance!

 
 
Nicole ChengComment