Each summer, uncountable schools of salmon swirl like swimming stars off both coasts of North America seeking out their home streams for spawning. Exactly how these intrepid fish find their way across miles of open ocean to the exact creeks or rivers of their birth is still something of a mystery and a metaphor, a journey of wonder, adventure, and a symbol of the incessant urge for living things to find a home.
Alum Maya Roe CS8 (SPring 2014) understands that urge. Growing up in California, spending a semester at Conserve School in the Midwest, and graduating recently from the College of Atlantic in Maine, Maya knows well both that feeling of rootlessness and the desire to establish a sense of place, to finally come “home.” She has poured both of those feelings into a new book of poetry called Returns.
Like the epic migrations of salmon, the book had its roots in science. “I volunteered as a science writer with different salmon conservation groups in Maine and California,” Maya says, “to learn about the cultural and environmental differences between the East and West Coasts of North America so that I could understand how these differences shape salmon conservation.” But the symbolism of the migration brought out the poet in her as well. “Throughout my process of learning about dams, hatcheries, tribal fishing rights, aquaculture, and fly fishing, I wrote a book of poems that uses salmon as a metaphor to understand the challenges I am facing as a young person trying to make a home in a totally new environment.”
In the following poem from her new book, “Summer steelhead,” Maya writes of the connections between the journey of the salmon and her own search for home:
Northern California’s summer steelhead share
an allele that compels them to travel farther
and more steadfastly than their cousins to the
capillaries of watersheds high in the mountains.
For thousands of springs, at the first blooming
of the manzanita, they pressed east to spawn.
Dams severed the arteries that carried them inland
to the mountains from the sea’s heart.
Some were trapped above the dams. Their children
wait in the reservoirs and the coolest shade of the
upper streams, the allele gently glowing
within them, their restless instincts
itching beneath their scales.
When I heard about them, I wondered:
How many forgotten gifts survive within me?
What dams separate me from my ancestral legacy?
And how can I return to a home I’ve never seen?
Returns is a beautiful exploration of nature, identity, love, and family, a valuable addition to the endless human story of searching for a home. To purchase either an e-book version ($2) or a physical copy of the book ($8-$15/pay what you can), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.