This is a postscript to my previous notes on Steelhead Youth. Every year, the audio system in the fish ladder viewing area (Ballard Locks) broadcasts a series of oral histories, each relating to a particular cycle of salmon migration. Right now in April, when you press the red button, you’ll hear about the juvenile steelhead migration, and about the precious few individuals paddling tail first from the lake to Puget Sound and beyond. Each informational clip is then tagged with a poem by Judith Roche, part of her Salmon Suite collection of poetry and public art works.

This season’s poem is “Smolt.” I’ve been meaning to post a video for those of you not in Seattle, so you can experience the salmonid mood in the fish ladder room. My only video equipment right now is a point-and-shoot that suffers for autofocus in the dark. At some point, I’ll re-shoot with the DSLR vid and external mic I will have soon.

The first time I heard one of Roche’s salmon poems over the loudspeaker, I was overcome with emotion — for what it expressed about the salmon people and their journey. Understanding what it takes for salmon to migrate, to survive in the oceanic tumult, then to navigate home by magnetism and scent, maybe by stars … it’s impossible not to feel a bond with the salmon you see struggling upstream through the ladder. Some have battered noses and the scars of hard living etched on their backs. All are traveling home for their last breaths in their home waters … where they’ll dig their redds and expend their life force in the eggs of future salmonids.

The video here is simply a backdrop for the audio of Roche’s “Smolt” poem. When I shot this, there were two young steelhead moving through the ladder, taking their time on the 18th weir (the 18th step of the fish ladder) to feed and acclimate to their salt-water future.

EDIT: The links I originally had to Roche’s work are no longer available. Judith Roche passed away in 2019. Here’s her obituary from the Seattle Times.

Here’s a video where Judith Roche talks about her “Salmon Suite” project:

Related posts: Steelhead Youth | Climing the [Salmon] Ladder to Success | Spillway (Ballard Locks)