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22 July, 2011

Garden 9: Simulated Anadromy

I spend a lot of time walking around in the woods and can confirm that yes, bears do poop there. Often enough, right in the middle of a trail. What do they care? They're moving on, and won't step in it.

But they don't poop so much in the burbs, or city lots. Nor do eagles and ospreys. Gulls save their payloads for cars or pile it on the pilings and docks. And cormorants, well, I've always been told that they are relentless autocoprophagists, but really I believe that they just don't mind shitting where they eat, right back in the water.

And that is how, gardeners of Olympia, we've been robbed of the bounty of the sea ever since settlers wrested the place from the gathering of bears who had held sway for so long. Without all these critters feasting on the fish runs (not to mention the sad depletion of the runs themselves), then dropping steaming piles of recycled ocean-dweller upon the land, we no longer get that special fertilizer. The salmon spends years in the Pacific gobbling oceanic energy, and dutifully brings it back to the land, fetching nutrients from that vast soup, concentrating them, and allowing a fair amount to make landfall. Nitrogen? Sure. Also some iron from the blood, calcium from the bones, and so on. Best of all, that plethora of trace elements so readily soaked up in the ocean, but spastically and stingily distributed on land. 

This cycle, bringing the riches of the sea back to the rivers, swimming deep into the landmass, was already recognized by the people who lived here since time immemorial. Recently, science has caught up, studying isotopes locked in old growth trees, recognizing the cycling by anadromous fish of nutrients into the terrestrial system, salmon making that one last leap, miraculously becoming part of the land. There is a growing awareness that the ecosystems of the northwest would be weak spindly things without the fish bringing surge after surge of fertility from the ocean. Reacting to these studies, descendants of the people who maintained an agreement with the salmon people for millenia commented,  "No shit."

One day, people will have extirpated themselves from most habitats, dams will crumble, and whatever salmon remain will be free to spawn and rebuild their finny tribes. Until then, I'm stuck buying jugs of fish emulsion, simulating the gift of anadromy. Smells horrific (worse than just a dead fish, I think, and way worse than bear poop), but my garden thanks me for a drink or two of this goo, liquefied diarrheatic Alaskan fish. I've tried to convince the family that I could feast on coho from time to time, then do my bear impression out in the garden where it would do some good, but they're unconvinced that the result would be less offensive than the ersatz gull-crap in a jug.

I've never been a fan of fertilizing, and yeah, I know that much wiser and more experienced gardeners have better approaches, but I'm too cheap and lazy to haul my ass over to Black Lake Organic and get the lovely blend of ground stone and stuff, or to make a total fertilizer a la Steve Solomon. Gangs of opposum and rats pillage my compost, so I don't really produce enough to make a difference. 

So it's ground up fish for my garden. Cannery waste..fins, guts, and bones made into fertilizer. I like that what would have been waste (or another Hormel product) is serving some useful purpose instead. I like the poetry of anadromy.

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