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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Salmon Run by Elizabeth Ledwosinska

We arrived in yellow school buses, scarves, rain coats and rubber boots. Running to the water’s edge, today no one stooped down to choose a pebble to skip. Folded up in our pockets, the flow charts depicting the life cycle we had drawn in class, neatly labeling the evolution from alevin to fry to leaving the creek and then heading back home again.

We ran alongside the struggling fish and urged them on, their scales flashing in the thin, cold light. Seagulls pecked the eyeballs out of those that had finished their battle, lying strewn in their spawning colours of glory on the banks. At the nature house, a dissection unfolded. We crowded around the open fish, its internal organs wet and glistening, each with a texture, a smell, and a purpose. Our cries of disgust soon turned to hushed whispers and questions as we gazed through the lens held up for us and saw the world flipped upside down on the other side. Our eyes did that too? We were somber, each of us suddenly heavy with a connection to the creature in front of us that had gasped its last breath on this misty autumn day. How did it know to come back here, to this creek where it was born?

At the picnic table, fat wooden paintbrushes with thick, stiff bristles stood upright in pickle jars of paint. A fish larger than most, still fresh and springy to the touch, lay ready for immortalization. We methodically brushed the creamy colours over its scales, outlining its gills with gentle attention, tracing along the fins whose names we had learned in class. It took four of us, each gripping one corner, to hoist the brown paper over the painted fish. We all patted and tapped and smoothed the canvas over the fish’s body, watching the paint seep into the rough cellulose. Lifting it up again, we cheered at the majestic result of our work. We hung our fish print up to dry with clothespins on a cord strung between two Douglas Firs.

Today that fish print hangs in my apartment in downtown Montreal. Ten years of studies in physics and engineering, a focus in photonics, perhaps spurred by a fish eye’s view of the world? The city has grown on me, and grown me up. But now it’s time for me to find my way home, to put on my rubber boots again and walk along the water’s edge, silently cheering on the incessant cycle of struggle and life.

Elizabeth Ledwosinska lives in Montreal, QC.

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