Hundreds of dorsal fins and tails break and beat the surface as I walk up to the stream. I know this will be an otherworldly experience as I slip into the water. It is difficult to capture the magnitude and magnificence of the herring run. There is a constant flow of biomass, a constant flow of biological energy moving up river. The water is murky with spawning and sandy eggs collect on the bottom.
I lay in the water and watch thousands of fish with a single purpose: to propel their species forward. There was an understanding in the eyes of the fish that swirled past, an understanding of their purpose and their place in this river that far exceeds mine. I imagine the sensory overload they must experience, coming from boundless ocean waters to this base of a waterfall stream, a foot deep, by ten across. I wonder if it feels confining or comforting, and I wonder if the fish care. They don’t seem to mind my presence and swim through my arms and around my head. They come right up to my mask and camera as if I was just another structure in the river, so maybe the only thing that registers is the instinctual desire to reproduce, to become immortal by propelling their DNA into the next generations.
The fish continue to swirl past. Individuals shoot upstream. Males find an interesting mate, spin around to pursue the larger females in tight circles downstream and beat the water into froth. I feel like I am watching history and the future combine as I witness this millennia old process. How did these fish arrive at this arduous method of reproduction? Why not just mate at sea rather than run the gauntlet to get here? How many more springs will they reappear? Their return is questionable each year because of us. Because we over fish them, sever their migration routes, smother the clean gravel beds they need to spawn with silt, pollute their streams and oceans. Yet here they are in full abundance, and I feel like I am swimming in a cloud of fish.