My name is Clay and I am a fine-grained material that made a great journey. I used to live on a plateau near Foster Creek where my job was nutrient exchange and holding water in a field of wheat. One day, a great fire burned across the field and I lost my job. Then snow fell and when it melted, I was swept into a river with my extended mineral family, as the fire had left no roots or plants to hold us back. Some of my close clay friends didn’t take this journey because their home was a line of plants next to the creek that didn’t burn. Those plants stopped my clay buddies movement quickly! “Maybe next time fellas, keep up the good work at the farm!"
As I traveled down the creek bed, my sandy cousins picked up more family from the creek bottoms to join the ride! We soil particles can be very powerful when we move quickly in large numbers. We can change how a stream flows and can sweep up anything in our path. When we’re on a roll like this, we’re having too much fun to stop the party.
I rode along the stream until I was dumped into the Columbia River, where I met clays from distant lands, as many other streams drain into the Columbia. While floating close to the shore, I met a salmon fry who told me how she had hatched upstream in a gravel redd in cold clean water. She didn’t like me much because I kept tickling her gills as she breathed me in, but I thanked her for her story, then flowed away from her in the river.
I passed over a few dams and made new salmon friends who were called parr, salmon fry that had grown large enough to journey downstream. They have a hard journey especially because the pike minnows and birds eat so many of them. One day, the water started becoming a little salty and I knew I had reached an estuary, a place where the ocean and the river mixed. My parr friends all found new homes so they could adjust to the salty water, and introduced me to their older salmon sisters and brothers. These guys are called smolts, and they were ready to swim out to sea. I swam with them and we dodged some seals and orcas as we floated out towards the Pacific Ocean together. Finally, I felt tired and got stuck in a ripple on the estuary floor. I never thought I would see such sights. Even though I’m now enjoying a new job in the estuary, I miss working on the farm back on the plateau in Douglas County.
If you enjoyed Clay’s conversations with his salmon companions on his journey, follow real salmon as they make their way from the inland rivers the Skokomish and the Duwamish into the Puget Sound at https://survivethesound.org/home.
Special thanks to the WA Dept. of Ecology and the WA State Conservation Commission for funding this article.