I stood by the ruins of my grandparent’s house, the little thatched cottage at the edge of the river, and watched the fishermen making their hauls upstream.
The tide looked silky vitreous, almost with the texture of molten glass. The men in the boat were pressing on the oars, their strokes with pulse, a rhythm all of their own, for they have been part of the heartbeat of the river for generations.
The boatmen were fishing in one of the fabled fishing pools of the Laune and though the catches have dwindled dramatically in recent years, the flash of living silver shone in the nets now and then. No other fish has touched the human psyche as deeply as the wild Atlantic salmon for it has wildness, a grace, splendour about it that sets it apart from all others.
There is nothing so lovely, nothing so evocative of summer than the sight of a salmon leaping from the water on a fine June day. As I stood by the ruins of the little old house, a salmon leapt high in the air, as though like some ancient wizard he was intent on tracing silver arcs across the sky.
I stood spellbound by the sight of him for he looked for the entire world like a silver rainbow, every part of him pulsing with life and colour and movement too. It was as if he were revelling in the mildness of the day, the air so warm and heavy and close, and a hint of thunder far off.
The more I looked the more I marvelled for there were times when he seemed to hang motionless in the air, as if he were suspended from the sky by invisible threads. I’m sure he did not know that I was so intrigued, so enthralled by his performance for all that mattered to him then was the sun and the river and the misty blue of the sky.
If I tried to imagine anything more beautiful I could not have done so for it was as if he were dancing to the beat of some unheard melody, a melody of deeps and shallows and secret currents, a melody as old as time, the mountains shouldering the blue of the sky in the middle distance.
I thought of his leaping and bounding and splashing as a celebration, not just of the gift of the summer’s day but of life itself. He was celebrating life in all its richness and diversity, all of the things of the river, fishes and flowers and birds on the wing.
His dance was the dance of generations for when he leapt from the water and flung himself into the air he was doing no more than his ancestors had done before him.
They too had revelled the gift of summer, the gift of life itself that his dance became a ritual, a way of binding him with all of his kind that had gone before.
He was part of the stream of life that had lived and flourished in the river since time immemorial and had filled it with richness too. The more I thought about it, the more I realised about it, the more I realised that here was a scene which would have been so familiar to my grandmother and those of her generation. I pictured her standing at the door and looking out across the tide on a fine June day, a salmon leaping from the water and flinging himself high in the air.
It was something that would surely have struck a chord with her for those who lived by the river; those who were sustained by it were not unappreciative of its beauty. Maybe she was going to the rick for a few sods of turf for the fire, the baking of soda bread part of the daily round.
Maybe she was hanging out the washing on the line, a gentle breeze coming in from the bay. Whatever she was doing the sight of the salmon leaping and splashing again would surely have stopped her in her tracks a while.
It was no great wonder then that I stood spellbound so long, a long line of swans elegant, proud, serene, drifting gently by; the men in the boat and the little rushy island upstream providing the perfect backdrop for the salmon’s delight.
There was something elemental about him, something that went beyond the limits of language and syntax and grammar, something indeed that touched the heart, the spirit and soul.
When he finished at last, all I could feel was a sense of privilege, thankful, so thankful that I had been witness once again to the glory of the salmon’s leap. It reminded me again of the interconnection of things, not just of the salmon and the river but of humankind too.
This is why we all have a part to play in the preservation of this marvellous legacy, for what could be lovelier than a wild Atlantic salmon jumping for joy on a summer’s day.
I lingered a while to look at the swans drifting on the tide, everything about them serene and peaceful still, but when I went on my way it was of the salmon, the marvellous magical salmon I was thinking all the while.
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