Stories from the Rainier Beach Library


A Fish Story

One fall afternoon I went out to the lobby for something and saw a couple of kids sitting by the door with a fishing pole. The library was only a few blocks from Lake Washington, and I asked them if they'd had any luck. Well yes, they allowed as how they had. "What did you catch?" I asked. This was like something out of Tom Sawyer.

One of the kids looked on with consternation and started saying, "No, no," as the other kid started unbuckling his backpack.

"Well, we're not sure what it is, do you you know anything about fish?" he asked me.

"No, not a thing," I confessed with a certain frisson as the realization dawned on me that I was about to be face to face with a freshly caught fish in the library. The flap flipped back, and I looked the fish full in its toothy face.

"Sockeye salmon!" I exclaimed, making a complete liar of myself. The other kid rolled his eyes. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of.

It was the one fish in the world that I knew. As recent transplants from Texas, my husband and I had volunteered to be salmon counters at our local stream, and we had been given a crash course in salmon recognition that consisted of brief blurry video footage and a laminated card with drawings of the local species of salmon. Several species were similar enough that I was sure I'd never be able to tell them apart. But there was no mistaking the bottle green head, bright red body, and especially the lethal, prehistoric looking teeth. This was a sockeye salmon. Endangered. Protected. With a ban on catching them.

"We were just fishing under the bridge. We didn't know what it was," they said as I started to launch into the saga of the salmon's miraculous journey. Of course, they learn all this in school. The Salmon is one of our regional tutelary spirits.

"Well, now that you know what it is, you know to throw it back if you catch another one," I said firmly. "You know that they used to be so numerous that people said you could walk across a river on their backs without getting your feet wet."

Then I relented and beamed at them. "Wow, thanks for showing me! I've never been this close to a sockeye salmon!" And we were still friends. I went back to work feeling somehow reassured that, despite the lure of computer games and extreme sports, kids still sit under bridges poaching fish.

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