Sunday, October 7, 2007

Celebrating Salmon and Winning a Most Practical Prize

The Northwest rain pelted and pinged on my umbrella today, glancing from the pavement up onto my wet shoes and legs. Its constance obscured the colorful wares in each of the booths I passed at soggy Salmon Days, a celebration of the return of the salmon to Issaquah creek that occurs each year with a plethora of art booths, several stages blasting rock music, and displays at the Issaquah salmon hatchery, to which a record number of fish are leaping and wriggling this year, through narrow and rocky tributaries, to return to spawn.

The fish are truly a miracle of nature, as they are born in fresh water streams, yet ride the current to the salty ocean to live their lives, finally using mysterious means to make their way back to the very spot of their births to release the eggs of the subsequent generation--and die. During a fair-weather fair, great crowds line the bridges over the creek, watching the most amazing display of three-foot-long salmon leaping out of the water, trying to ford a gushing waterfall. Those are the stupid salmon, however, because nearby is a "salmon ladder," a stepped tunnel that runs alongside the waterfall that allows the fish to swim upstream in calm safety. It's lined with viewing windows, and watching these huge fish, many of whom have tattered fins and decaying scales after a lifetime at sea, as they make their way in the urgency of instinct to their birthplace, is an awesome experience. The only reason why God would create such bizarre creatures is to instill in us a sense of wonder. Well, that, and to provide a healthy meal for about ten bucks.

In any case, it's all a great reason for a festival, and the fish are foremost in the fun, with thirty-foot-long effigies, carried on poles by eight people, swimming their way through the crowd (above, photographed in a previous year). Despite the rain this year, the hatchery still swarmed with families gawking at the exhibits of fingerlings and taxidermed fish, and the naturalists on the bridge still fielded questions, dressed in their slickers.

Usually it's the finale fair of the season (aren't you relieved to know...), always billed to run "rain or shine." And today was defiantly rainy, with splashing puddles, and gushing spouts drenching visitors when the white rip-stop canopies on the craft-vendor booths suddenly disgorged their collected pools. In a surreal switch, the people celebrating the fish were immersed in their honoree's habitat.
And because it was nearly impossible to see, with sheets of rain, juggling umbrellas, and the swaths of plastic that vendors draped over their offerings, I took only two mediocre photos.

I did leave with a prize, however--Costco had a booth where you could roll two dice, and if you got doubles or lucky 7, the attendants, with great excitement, handed you a plastic bag with a mystery gift inside. I threw those dice against the black-velvet lined tray, and--voila! Double threes! Gleefully, I grabbed my sack and turned back into the rain, opening it as I jostled with my umbrella, walking into the downpour.

I'll always remember Salmon Days '007, not for any beautiful jewelry I bought, nor the rousing entertainment, or even the oddball fishy exhibits...but because I won... a roll of toilet paper. And probably that was the most practical souvenir of all.


  1. Hehe--the toilet paper story reminds me of my year in Israel, when we had a Chinese auction in my seminary to raise money for tzedakah. One of the items was a Mystery Prize in a large box...which turned out to be a mega-pack of TP (48 rolls, IIRC). And the girl who won it was thrilled! :)

  2. Wow. From Costco you'd expect at least a mega-pack. One measly roll? I guess the laugh that inevitably follows is the real prize.