You may find yourself dazzled by wonder of life

“Letting the days go by/Let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by/water flowing underground”

“Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads

Puget Sound - The school of big, magenta-and-green chum salmon surged and swirled just off the shallow, pebbly beach.

The bright chartreuse Woolly Bugger – with an extra-long, flowing tail of marabou feather – glowed in the clear water as it drifted on the gentle, ebbing tide.

One chum salmon – a male with canine teeth curving out of a twisted jaw – eased up to the fly and then took it in a blurred rush.

Line hissed off the chittering reel as the fish surged against the pull of the rod.

Ten or 15 minutes later – who looks at a watch when a big salmon is rampaging around? – the chum salmon was in shallow water. A human hand reached to pluck out the barbless fly, the fish thrashed. Suddenly free, the chum salmon churned away to rejoin the pod of restless fish.

Red blood trickled from a cut thumb. Chum salmon have sharp teeth.

“Into the blue again/in the silent water

Under the rocks and stones/There is water underground”

The bridge on Delphi Road carried a steady stream of cars and trucks, and the asphalt hissed as grooved rubber sucked up and spat out rainwater.

Underneath the bridge, a rain-swollen McLane Creek gurgled into deep, dark bends and rattled over shallow riffles.

Upstream, chum salmon thrashed over a shallow riffle – their backs exposed to the air – and slid into a dark, runoff-clouded run.

One weary, spawned-out fish – shrouded in white fungus –finned in a backwater and waited for the end of it all. An empty Bud Light beer can bobbed nearby.

Ravens, black, noisy and grim, waited in nearby trees.

“Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by/water flowing underground”

A car slowed as it passed over the bridge – and then stopped.

Metal doors slammed and squeaky, young voices filled the air.

“Look, a salmon!” one voice cried.

“Another one … and another one!” said a young girl.

“Look carefully,” a young woman – a teacher or nanny? – said. “Aren’t they wonderful?”

Three kids leaned on the mossy, concrete railing and watched the fish.

“Look!” a boy said as a dead fish – fuzzy with white fungus and decay – floated downstream. “That one has died!”

“They will all die,” the woman said. “After they lay their eggs.”

“Into the blue again/After the money’s gone

Once in a Lifetime/water flowing underground”

Upstream, near the McLane Creek Nature Trail, dozens of chum salmon gouged nests in the pebbled bottom.

Males spar and woo females.

Eggs and milky clouds of milt spurted from mating fish. The fertilized eggs tumbled into the nest and caught on the pebbles.

Fish that spawned a day or two earlier feebly finned against the current – they looked like wind-up toys with just one or two spins left on their spring keys.

Fresh fish – glowing magenta and olive – rumbled into the riffle and lurked just downstream.

They’ waited their turn to fight, mate and die.

Months from now, all the chum salmon will be dead.

Their eyeless, melting bodies –ravens eat chum eyes first – will pile up in slower backwaters and hang from the streamside brush.

High water carries the dead fish, which carry the musty, acrid scent of an overfertilized lawn, into the brush. The receding water leaves the bodies dangling.

But life – in the form of hundreds of thousands of young salmon growing inside eggs – pulses in the gravel. No one will see these young fish until the spring.

And some of those fish – not yet hatched – will return from the stormy North Pacific in three or four years.

The big chum will rage off Puget Sound beaches and bull into the little creeks to create new life.

“Same as it ever was … Same as it ever was … Same as it ever was …”

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226