Something smelled a little fishy as soon as Clackamas High School arrived Tuesday morning… This was no ordinary Green Team activity. There was no Armenian Blackberry to remove, no plants to coffee bag or mulch, no water quality equipment to study macroinvertebrates.. Just a bunch of dead salmon. It all appeared too good to be true.. as if it were happening once upon a dream.
Students geared up in gloves and trash bag gowns and were ready for whatever crazy adventure the day had in store. Students learned from our wonderful partners from the Clackamas River Basin Council and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife about the nutrients salmon deposit into the forest and stream as they decay. Salmon have lots of marine nitrogen in them which acts as a fertilizer to trees and shrubs. This story is just one example of the way all things in nature are interconnected in some magical way.
Students also cut open these salmon to check out the organs within the fish. We talked about salmon gills and how they act like lungs do for us, absorbing oxygen for the body to use. Their gills are so efficient (absorbing 80% of the oxygen that enters their gills) that only the dreamiest King Salmon could take their breath away. We found the long kidney along the spinal cord and talked about how it produces red blood cells, cleans the blood, and also is crucial in assisting the fish in the smolting process (the transition from freshwater to saltwater)- kind of like the fairy godmother of salmon. We felt the slime of the fish and thought it could be a good defense mechanism to slip out of predators hands or claws, slide over rocks, and protect them from disease, parasites or pollution in the water.
We then were able to make some art out of these decaying creatures. Gyotaku is a tradition form of fish printing used to record the size and species of fish…and it looks awesome! Students found partners and painted the fish, crinkled the paper and made a print. Some students were even able to express their University pride with the green and yellow paints we had out.
Then we learned about the ways people have used our native trees and shrubs throughout history in a fun ethnobotany game. Students also got creative with writing reflections from the salmon point of view. We tried to advertise the pristine, healthy qualities of our invasive species-free, thimbleberry, fern, Western Red Cedar- filled park to our salmon friends while we pretended to be real-estate agents. We reflected on the great journeys salmon face as they head upstream to spawn and die in freshwater streams and how a clean, cool, and well conserved stream makes that journey more possible.
All in all, students helped fertilize a forest, learned about fish anatomy and physiology, expressed themselves creatively through traditional art, learned about native trees and shrubs, and wrapped it all up with thoughtful, witty, and inspirational reflections. Not even magic wands could do all of that faster than Clackamas High School students! The fairy tale where students get to experience a well conserved forest, remember that they are part of a world much bigger than themselves and their school, and care about the natural systems within our environment became a reality. It was indeed salmon-enchanted morning.