We’ve all experienced the ache, at one time or another, of homesickness and missing home. That recognition of our neighborhood as we get closer, pleasure when we arrive after time away: home. In a way its odd that we would form such deep attachment to a place, and that even after the passing of time and distance it can still retain the lure of attraction.
But we’re not the only ones who do. Animals in the wild return unerringly to homes, as well. Birds who wing off to forage in the morning find their way back to their own nests again that night, foxes their dens, bees their hive.
We can’t know what feelings they attach, if any, to those chosen places. But it’s undeniable, they recognize their home, and are drawn to return to it, even if only for a season.
And when it comes to answering the call to go home, the salmon is clearly in a league of its own.
If you’ve never seen a living salmon in a freshwater stream out in the woods, it’s amazing to discover them there, virtually invisible in the water. I had the chance with a team of fishery biologists on Mill Creek in Sonoma County in the early spring. They’d set a catch-box and were busy counting and tagging four inch parrs (the adolescent stage) in the dappled light of the forest. In that setting the colors and patterns and marks on the young salmon – from the silver sides to the leopard spots to the line of vertical bars – worked perfectly to blend them into their shimmering watery home.
At a certain age an internal switch trips in the salmon juveniles and they leave their natal pools, turn downstream, swim many miles away and out into a place they’ve never been, the unknown Pacific. The survivors will spend years ranging in the open ocean growing fat and long and sleek.
Then, one day, no one knows how, they feel an urgent calling to go home.