Salmon Stories

Salmon Stories

Waterways was conceived as a group of artists and scientists interested in the interconnected and entangled existence of various species. Our starting point was the Atlantic salmon, described by Dr Colin Bull as ‘in crisis’ due to multiple factors including deterioration of its habitat, warming waters, and risks of predators in both river and marine environments. The salmon as both fish and cultural symbol is key to many Scottish communities and Waterways initial residency sought to try to understand this through focusing on specific parts of the journey, the River Feshie and River Spey then on to Spey Bay on the North East coast of Scotland. Initial questions included: How can we foster interdisciplinary approaches to salmon conservation? How can creative methods respond to migratory journeys, tracing, tracking and as far as possible, travelling with wild salmon? In order to understand these questions we looked to the salmon life cycle, and to the salmon themselves. What were the stories of the salmon? How could we understand them through their connection to place and their epic journey?

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It’s a story of:

birth
growth
resilience
change
shapeshifting
leaping
return

In the fastmoving flow of the River Feshie, islands of stones crafted by trees puncture the water.

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It’s a story of:

behaviour
physiology
environment
ecology
hormones
chemicals
instinct

Light and oxygen, sand, algae, a moving environment, dynamic, the gravel provides a trap, a home, a refuge, a nest. Sight of the first salmon, an inch in length.

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It’s a story of:

stones
redds
gravel
freshwater
seawater
shallows
depths


In and out the gravel, up and down the stream, camouflaged, they move in the nighttime.

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It’s a story of:

stillness
standing
darting
swimming
drifting
falling
leaping

A deep crevasse between two walls of rock, they hide in the depths, at the bottom, the bedrock.

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It’s a story of:

stonefly
beavers
mayfly
kingfishers
herons
osprey
freshwater pearl mussels

When they are bigger, they are more vulnerable, more likely to be found, there is safety in this zone.

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It’s a story of:

Autumn
Winter
Spring
Summer
Autumns
Winters
Springs

The grassy tufts are trying to become the gravel shelves, the eggs are trying to become alevin, the alevin are trying to become parr, the parr are trying to become smolt, the smolts are trying to become adults, the adults are trying to spawn. Resistance and surrender, becoming and unbecoming under the water, unseen.

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It’s a story of:

precarity
scarcity
crisis
barriers
predators
warming
demise


Some drop down into the main river. There is a coastal stream of food into this new environment, new reference points, new risks. Smoltification begins, silvering fish group together, there is safety in numbers.

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It’s a body of:

scales
otolith
adipose
dorsal
pectoral
swim bladder
ovaries


Losing the ability to hold their station, losing the will, dropping back, drifting then dropping down down down the falls.

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It’s the colour of:

silver
white
pink
green
grey
brown
salmon


It happens at nighttime, got to try to find a way out, fast moving river, complex currents, drawing on an inner compass.

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It’s a symbol of:

passage
abundance
resilience
homecoming
tenacity
fertility
renewal


A tiny fin called the adipose, a minuscule fat store, no structure, clipped off as its function was unknown. A longing, a loss.

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It’s a map of:

a journey
migration
landscapes
rivers
seas
scent
a lifecycle

The smell of water, the otolith, an olfactory map, heightened sense, thyroid throbbing. The Insh is calling, cross the fleshy bridge.

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It’s a story of:

stillness
standing
swimming
drifting
dropping
falling
leaping


Barriers, hydrodams, track and truck means losing the thread of the smell. How to remember where you have not been? How to trace scent where you have not travelled? Working to find a way out, tail first into the white foam.

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It’s a story of:

eggs
alevin
fry
parr
smolt
adult
spawning


At the coast they stop feeding, stomach’s empty, but body memory remains. The stress of the mother seeps into her eggs, her trauma their legacy.

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It’s a story of:

birth
growth
resilience
change
shapeshifting
leaping
return

 

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