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The Salmon of Wisdom

By Amy Nielsen

Deep in the highlands of Scotland, in the streambeds and shallow river bottoms, in the chill of early spring, salmon spawn hatch. They begin to grow and learn this place they call home. Living in the rivers and loch of the highlands, feasting on a bounty seen few other places in the world.

Three years they are this salmon, they have territories of their own. They become aware of their place in this environment and are well in it. Then when they reach a size at a time only whispered to them among the reeds, the calling happens and they start to swim. In great numbers they are swept downstream in the beginning of an epic journey.

These parr navigate waters often slow and lazy, sometimes deep and cool, mostly rough and tumbling. They swim past windswept hills, through endless prickling moors, eventually to the more curated fish tunnels and loch ladders of the inhabited coastline. And then suddenly it is time.

In the lengthening days of May with the rivers warming, the parr begin to transform. The salmon’s thyroid is triggered by the change in salinity of the water, the change in day light, and the change in temperature to begin to smolt. The fish becomes a different fish by shedding its outer layer and recalibrating its gills for salt.

Once the transformation is complete and the new fish – the adult salmon - has emerged and cannot live in the brackish water and they move to open water. Swimming free of the coastline and out.

Out to sea. Into an immensity of a proportion so vastly different from where they started that they are made completely new for the experience. To spend a whole other lifetime in an exquisitely new environment at depths unknown in locations unfathomable. Salmon disappear while out to sea. No one knows quite where they go or what they learn, but we know they never forget how to return home.

So after a time spent living far and large, the adult salmon forego eating and swim hard, harder than they have ever swum before. Facing odds and obstacles beyond measure. Through that brackish water into the fresh, without wasting the energy or sparing a second thought to return to a freshwater fish. They have a drive to get home. To spawn.

If they make it to that place, the one they can only know by the faint echo of memory like so much a half remembered perfume, they finally come to rest.

Oh but what a frantic bash it is as they fight and slash, bite and slap for the bed in which to lay their so precious mother load. The boiling shallows writhe with flashing red and silver, white clouds billowing as the wisdom of the journey and the magic of transformation and secreted among the gravel and reeds.

Complete from the existence lived and emptied of the knowledge, this salmon move to another plane of existence on yet another epic journey into a new environment. One where they don’t even need gills to breathe.

In Scottish folklore, salmon are known as the fish of knowledge for they always know the way home again. They are the form that Taliesin, the greatest Bard ever to live and holder of the knowledge of Kings, took on his journey over the sea to return to Scotland as a babe on the shore with eyes of grey shining bright. Salmon are kept in sacred wells and fed on hand picked acorns.

I tell you this tale because it is not dissimilar to my own educational journey thus far. I won’t tell you where on the path I am, that’s for me to discover. My question to you is, where are you on your journey with the Salmon of Wisdom?

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