Friday, April 30, 2010

Lonesome Larry

It is Friday afternoon. I am lonesome. I know lonesome sounds more like a Friday night, or a Monday even, but it is one, the loneliest number, etc. Maybe I am just unsettled but there is no segue to my story from there. Waiting on news of the weather, as in whether or not Isaiah's baseball game will be rained out or not so we can travel east today over the mountains to the desert, to Sisters, to visit friends and escape this incessant spring rain. He is playing the other red team, the Siletz Indians, again, having already been beaten twice by them. How much restitution can one team make? Waiting to hear if the heater guy is coming or not. Waiting for school to get out, for the clock to strike two, for another sighting of that black bear, or that humming bird, or for, as always, some good news. Bella has her first loose tooth, which is exciting news. Now I want more. So, speaking of lonesome, while I am waiting, let me tell you a fish story. See how that worked?

In one of my past lives as a fish biologist, I managed a variety of projects including a program to save the critically endangered sockeye salmon of Redfish Lake in Idaho, the offspring of Lonesome Larry. You have probably never heard of Larry but he was a pretty famous fish in his day. In 1992 Larry was the only sockeye salmon to successfully make the journey of over 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to Redfish Lake, a lake named for the symbolically passionate color of its water when it historically filled with some 30,000 red fish like Larry every year. Sockeye turn bright red when they are ready to spawn and develop a hooked jaw that makes them look quite fierce to other males and oh-so-desirable to the females they entice, red representing either anger or amour in the eye of the beholder.

Larry's ancestors made this journey for thousands of years, but Larry had the additional challenge of navigating past eight dams starting at sea level on the Oregon and Washington border, turning up the Snake River in Washington and on into Idaho, climbing up to the almost 7,000 foot elevation of that deliciously cool Sawtooth Mountain lake. The intended reward for his perseverance on this perilous feat of endurance was, however, conspicuously absent when Larry arrived that year, exhausted yet exhilarated.

Larry's excitement at reaching his manifest destination must have quickly turned to disappointment as there was no attractive female wagging her tail provocatively at him with whom he could co-mingle his genetic material on the gravelly bottom of that pristine lake. Larry found himself all alone in the lake. Well, not quite alone, but not with the lovely lady he had hoped to dance with. In her stead, there were some not-so-sexy scientists waiting for him in the cold, clear water, excited in their own way to see Larry. They captured him and milked his sperm, then froze and stored it in their laboratory.

Larry’s sperm lived on to become the basis for a captive breeding program for his progeny, the most endangered salmon stock in the Pacific Northwest. Each year it is carefully dispensed to artificially fertilize the eggs of the future females who manage to show up, eliminating that nasty little variable--timing. His offspring are reared in captivity instead of in the lake where they are ultimately still released with the prayer that they will successfully negotiate the dams and return some day.

As for Larry? Well, they stuffed the poor guy, mounted him, and hung him on their office wall. Not a very auspicious ending for a legend. Although I am sure he draws an admiring glance every now and again from members of a species he never intended to attract. Larry has been preserved for perpetuity. His offspring may not be so lucky. Our days of telling tales of the ones that got away might include his whole species some day. Now that would be lonesome.


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