When the Serpent Appears-Part 2
Between Mother’s Day and the talk with the bishop, there was a month of work travel overseas and a week of family vacation in northern Michigan. These weeks were full to the brim with beautiful people, places and all the best “feels” possible.
My family has been vacationing in a coast guard cabin in the north of Michigan since I was three years old. I have only missed a few years, and those I was usually in Europe working, so didn’t miss out too badly. This cabin and the surrounding landscape, the water and sand, are full of moments of connection for me. This has been a sacred place to me for many years. The soft smell of the hemlocks, the relentless wind off of the lake, the bite of the hot sand on my feet all have a special place in my heart. My grandmother found and rented this place for us all when I was young. My cousins and siblings ran wild for the entire week, only coming in for food and to steal a cookie from the enormous pail of monster cookies. Monster cookies were only available for that one week every year, and we all took advantage of it.
This past year, it was a little different. I was 44 years old and not running wild, per se. I was pondering the imminent changes in my life, taking long walks in the dunes, forests and on the beach. This is the one place I am used to being alone in the natural world. Something has always reassured me that I was safe there. It has held true to this day, thank goodness.
On the last morning, I walked from the cabin to the beach for one last morning stroll next to the water. Looking down almost constantly, I searched for pretty stones; stones with stories of the past. There are such special fossils there and only there, to be found. At one point, I looked into the water next to me. I was walking at a slow pace and noticed that there was movement in the water, going at the same pace I was. I had just done a semester-long project for school on the invasive Asian carp and their potential influence on the area’s waterways. I was afraid to look too closely. But my curiosity won out..like it often does. What I saw was something I could not explain. Next to me were at least twenty salmon with pink bellies, moving at the same pace I was, rolling over and over each other. We, the salmon and I, were traveling south from the cabin toward Frankfort. There were no immediate rivers nearby; where they might have come from. Never before had I seen them next to the shore. I could have reached out and touched them as they were no more than 4 feet from me.
They remained at my side for over 10 minutes, moving at my pace. Some would leave for a bit, then come back to join the others. At one point, they all disappeared and I worried that our meeting was over. But they came back and I had plenty of time to pull out my phone and record this event, getting close enough to show their behavior as they swam. I took over four minutes of footage in order to ask a local fisherman (whom I would find later that morning) about it.
They came and went, with a mass of them staying with me. Nearing the end of my walk, before I came to the point where the lake prohibited my going further, it seemed they had all left me. But, looking more closely, I noticed one remained. One single pink bellied, Coho salmon. She was beautiful. She remained with me until I had to turn back. I walked back alone in my thoughts about what I had just witnessed.
Getting back to the house, packing and cleaning, I made a plan to go into town and find someone before leaving. I put gas in the car and drove down toward the fishing docks. Finding two older fishermen, I asked if they would watch my video from my phone. They did. Both of them looked at each other, then to me again, asking where I had been when I had filmed this. According to both of them, it was extremeely abnormal behavior for the salmon to be that close to the shore and for them to be spawning in the lake. So that’s what they were doing! That idea had crossed my mind, but the location didn’t match the behavior, so I put it out of my mind.
Because the woodpecker had all but disappeared from earshot that past month or so and I was aware of it, I wondered if these salmon were trying to say something to me. What was the medicine of the salmon and did it apply to where I was in my life in that moment? Spoiler alert! They had a lot to say. 😊
According to the website dreamsandsleep.com and others, the Salmon represents many things as a totem animal. Salmon represents adaptation and change, rebirth and happiness, eternal life and femininity. Its appearance can be a support of the change happening in your life and witness that it is allowing progress in a good way. It also witnesses to a person that they do not deal with monotony well, they get “bored easily” (I have said this many times about myself), and that travel and exploration is vital for them. It’s focus on femininity and reproduction can mean several things. One being that families are very important to them; that they get a lot of meaning and fulfillment from their relationships with their families. It also speaks to having a large family, but that it represents deep creative power is more of an accurate description. They also represent infinite wisdom and prophecy; that a person is guided well by their own intellect and knowledge.
As I reflect on the timing of my experience with the salmon, all of these totem messages ring true. Focusing on the gift of witnessing the spawning of the salmon demonstrates to me that the creative journey I am on is indeed valid and worthy of the energy and life-force it requires. It also reflects to me the fierceness and commitment in my mothering and my deep love for my family and need to be seen by them. Indeed, all of the other messages are true as well, but I’ll save them for another time…another blog.
Sometimes when people hear me tell stories about encounters with animals in nature they will say something like, “You’ve had a lot of luck to see so much wildlife.” But I don’t think so. I think the number, frequency, and nature of our encounters with wildlife is mostly a function of how much time we spend outdoors. If you spend a great deal of time outdoors, eventually you will meet every species that lives in your area. But this is only one of the determinants, and it has mostly to do with frequency and variety of encounter.
There is also the element of the nature of the encounter. And that’s where the determining factor is our own inner process and how we are relating to our lives and the lives around us, especially the lives of the more-than-human world. Slowly walking alone in places where we feel safe in our solitude invites a different quality of encounter. Especially when we are holding big questions; it is as if the land feels our questions, as if the prints and traces made by our feet are a written language that the land reads.
In your story of the salmon I see you walking barefoot, intensely in your heart as your ponder an important moment of your life. You are finding clues in ancient stones. Life extends backwards millions of years, and leaves its written alphabet. And each of your steps leaves its own word in the sand. Your heart and mind and body connect with the place, and it hears, it listens. It responds. The salmon come to you. They walk with you. This is not a miracle; it is the ordinary everyday way of the web of interbeing that connects us all. But you do something radical for our times: you notice. You notice what you have called in, and you welcome the companionship of the fishes. You welcome it with wonder and tenderness and excitement.
The Salmon speak in the language of fishes. This is a language that is heard by humans in the voices of our imaginations, where imagination lives in the heart center. You say you wondered if the salmon were trying to say something to you; I know you better than that, Christy. You knew they were. The wondering is more like this: “How can I receive the message?” And I am sure you did. The Salmon knew better than to waste their time on someone whose heart was blind, whose imagination was dulled. Is this not at the core of our forest practice, that we will receive what we are ready to receive, and understand what we are ready to understand, the great sentient earth will know exactly what to send us; what generous offering to make. And receiving it, we are little by little shaped on our path of becoming the fullness of who and what we are.