Writing as Witnessing: writing about the Snoqualmie River salmon run

All writing is about something. When you teach writing, the world just pours in. And in return, writing can influence the world. Experiencing the power of writing as a way of witnessing is very exciting to most of my students. Children are small but feel justice deeply, and writing gives them a powerful way to articulate things.

We just got a chance to experience that in my Carnation class. The Salmon are running in the Snoqualmie River right now, so we went down to look at them. We saw pools of water churning with spawning salmon, huge fish swimming up shallow riffles, and dead and dying salmon on the beach.

What we saw looked a lot like this.

Afterwards, I read them an account of a pre-decline salmon run, where the whole river roiled with thousands of fish. I explained that we only know what those runs were like because people who saw them wrote down what they saw. I told them that these accounts give us a vision of what to work towards as we protect and restore salmon runs today. I said that many people in the Northwest have never seen salmon spawning, but that through our writing we could share that experience with them. I asked them to write about seeing the salmon and to bring their writing home and share it with someone who hadn’t seen salmon running before. Meanwhile, I went around and collected one description from each person to share with you. Please feel free to share this with any salmon-loving, salmon-curious or salmon-deficient people in your lives.

Here goes:

I didn’t know how many fish die on the riverbed.

I like all the colors on their bodies, how there are light and dark, the opposites.

I thought I saw a salmon moving up because I saw the waves and then it stopped and it made me amazed because I thought of how the salmon are so strong.

I was straight by how beautiful salmon are. Even when they are mangled they’re cool.

I liked how all the fins, you couldn’t see them and then they came up. I liked how the water would go around them and they would jump, kind of.

I liked when the salmon splashed and you could just see their backs.

I liked how the salmon was still moving its out even though its eye was popped out, like it was trying to eat some food to live and protect its spawn.

I remember seeing live salmon swimming and it was cool.

I saw a salmon that was dead and was showing its tummy. It was really cool to see because it was showing its fins. There were four of them, and it was all white. I thought there would be black because dead salmon are usually moldy, but it wasn’t and it was cool.

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