Running the Gauntlet (Spring 2017)

Chinook Salmon are a crucial part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem. They are born in freshwater and then travel to the Pacific Ocean to reach maturity. After 3-7 years they return upstream to the stream or river where they were born to reproduce.  This upstream journey of hundreds of miles physically challenges and scars the fish. The piece represents the journey that salmon take when returning from the ocean to their spawning grounds and the dams that hinder their journey. In addition to creating a physical barrier across the river, dams slow the flow of the water that is necessary in aiding smolts’ (young salmon), return to the ocean. Native Chinook Salmon populations are in decline and action needs to be taken to ensure their survival.

The piece is made from wood and measure 32.5” (the length of the largest salmon I have caught). The rivers of the Columbia (Snake, Salmon, & Clearwater) River drainage are carved into the surface of the fish. Dams are represented by bolts with initials representing each dam and the date completion stamped on them. These man-made, physical objects scar the wooden fish, interrupting the path of the rivers. The dates o the bolts show how outdated the dams are. With the exception of a few renovated dams on the Columbia, many of these dams produce little clean energy. Removing just a few along the Snake River would allow more salmon to reach the Salmon River in Idaho. At 425 miles, the Salmon River is one of the longest un-dammed rivers in the United States. This is also the river that I grew up on the banks of. I have spent years fishing for Salmon with my father and guiding whitewater rafting trips on the Main and Lower Salmon.

The presence of an adipose fin signifies a native Chinook Salmon. Adipose fins on hatchery fish are clipped to show that they were born in a fish hatchery and are legal to keep during salmon fishing season. The “natives” are treated with care and released back into the river to continue their journey.

The concept of my college journey following the path of the salmon is also an interesting aspect of the concept. Four years ago I traveled down the Salmon, Snake, and Columbia Rivers to the Portland area. This May I will be returning upriver to Idaho for graduate school at nearly the same time as the Salmon will be making their spring run. Many of these fish would have traveled down the river at the same time I did 4 years ago.

© 2016–2020 by Kaleb Bass