by Arielle Houghton
Is it just me or is growing up, in and older about selective memory? It seems all too easy to forget; names, dates, even entire school semesters seem to disappear into the abyss of grey matter in my head. This is especially true when I'm busy. Life seems like it’s accelerating and most moments seem like one stepping stone to the next. Transitioning from university to my career is likely the culprit of all this rushing. Juggling school, work, volunteering and attempting to sustain social networks keeps me constantly on the go. Of course, only the most pertinent information makes it to the top of mind.
That’s just one of the reasons I’m taking a 7 week road trip around B.C.; so I can take some time to reflect on my life up until this point in time. It never ceases to amaze me when entire memories fade from consciousness. When I was asked to write my salmon story I was left a bit dumbfounded. “My salmon story?” I thought, “What relationship do I have to salmon?” Despite the immediate disbelief, my history is, in fact, coloured with memories of these unique red and green fish.
As I reflected, those childhood memories rushed back. However no memories are quite as vivid as those that revolve around food.
Every year, we would go on a family trip to Cowichan River. It was one of the best trips of the year. We would fill up out inner tubes and float down the river, swim in the icy cold waters and search for sunken treasures under the big grey river rocks. We would wade down the creeks and streams searching for crayfish - kitchen tongs and buckets in hand - and every year we would eat my stepmother's famous cedar plank salmon. This was the Cowichan river cabin family tradition.
I remember my step mom would take the bright pink salmon cutlets and lay them on freshly cut cedar planks. She would splash the salmon with herbs and maple syrup producing a candied flavour that would blend with the cedar as the flames of the grill baked them together. This process offered a pungent sweet and smoky scent that would permeate the summer air every time the iron lid would open. And then, we would wait for what would seem like an eternity.
We would do anything to distract ourselves from the sensory euphoria that was wafting through the fresh air. We played tag, hide and seek, took a few swings at the bocce ball, we’d even humour my step brother’s brags of being able to do one hundred pushups. Of course, none of this compared to when the salmon would finally arrive on our dinner plates.
And yet, I wouldn’t pause to savour a bite. The entire meal would disappear in a matter of moments as my siblings and I gorged on the meat we anticipated for so long. I remember how my step mother would roll her eyes, “why do I even make the meal if you’re not going to enjoy it.” Oh but we would enjoy it. For those few moments, when the food filled our mouths and our faces would balloon like blowfish. In that moment we would be satisfied.
It’s remarkable, isn't it? How could this entire family tradition have disappeared from my recollection? Was it because the salmon arrived on my plate, as easily as it disappeared? Was it because I wouldn’t savour the moment when my longing for the salmon dinner was finally satiated? Or is it simply because I’ve just been too busy for memories like this to remain relevant?
Whatever the reason, those memories have shaped me. In fact, they are part of the reason why I choose to work and live in Victoria and why every time I leave Victoria, I always feel at home when I come back.They’ve influenced my decision to work at an environmental non-profit that is fighting to defend the places that bring salmon to that Cowichan River picnic table and others just like it.
While I’ve been finishing my degree in entrepreneurship, volunteering and working on the weekends, those memories have remained, silently guiding my decisions and leading me to a new story. It’s part of what has shaped the decision to travel all around B.C. to help others bring these memories to the surface, and ask more simple questions like “what is your salmon story?”
I’m taking this trip because, now, as the salmon and their homes are at risk of being forgotten and disappearing, I wonder what memories lay hidden but active in influencing others in making important decisions in other parts of B.C. I wonder how the places where British Columbians have grown up, the food they’ve eaten and their stories have shaped their lives.
To do this, I’m going to drive 7,000 km around B.C. to ask locals their stories and experience other parts of our home in this province. You can follow my story as it forms at peopleofplace.ca.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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