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  • Derek Schultz

Transformation

Anadromous (from Greek roots, meaning "running upward") is the term used to describe fish which spawn in freshwater streams before and after living their adult lives in the saltwater of the ocean. The salmonids are the great transformers of the Pacific coast; they are the bearers of life for the upland forests who await the gift of their bodies to feed the soil. They transform themselves from freshwater fish to saltwater fish, and they transform the land which supports and surrounds them.


Landscape photograph of the New River in California by bioregional artist Derek Schultz
Waters of the New River, California

The ocean is the great engine of life; the beating heart and lungs of primary production on Earth. The waves call and the salmonids are summoned. They are the Promethean intrepids, going forth into the vast dark caress of the deep waters to gather and bring back the gift of life: nutrients, woven into a shimmering basket which we call a "body".


Photograph of a salmon skull by bioregional artist Derek Schultz
Salmon, after spawning, give their bodies to grow the forests which raised them

Sketch of steelhead (rainbow trout) parr by bioregional artist Derek Schultz

In the Pacific northwest, the salmon are the guardians of the rivers and forests. To the south, where the sitka spruce and redwoods along the coast vanish and are replaced by the much smaller forests of scrub brush and oak, it is the steelhead who are the protectors of the waterways.


What makes the difference between a rainbow trout and a steelhead? They are the same species. We do not yet understand why some of them answer to the song of the siren. Some individuals choose to remain in the freshwater streams of their birth, while others make the epic journey down to the river mouths, undergoing an intense chemical transformation which will ultimately allow them to survive in the harsh saltwater of the pelagic environment.


Estuaries are rare on the Pacific coast. The geology is young, uplifted, ragged. The few havens like Morro Bay are critical habitat as a safe transition zone for those who are called to transform themselves.



My first steelhead painting was this design, from 2018. I drew and painted it after spending summers swimming on the New River, the Mad River, the Trinity River: the green knot entwining the Klamath mountains in the far northwest of California.


Landscape photograph of sunlight on the Mad River by bioregional artist Derek Schultz

Time passes and cycles repeat themselves. The ancient rocks unfurl slowly. Generations of river runners venture forth and return. The steelhead, unlike the salmon, may make this journey multiple times in their life cycle. My hands draw, and I find myself drawing in circles, coming back again.



Fine art print of steelhead parr by bioregional artist Derek Schultz
Steelhead parr, finished fine art print

The vision is always growing, changing, being fed. The more of the real world I see, as I am immersed, my dreams are spoken more and more in the voices of the nonhumans. There is always a greater depth for which to strive, and as I circle inward, I come closer to some type of understanding and relationship.


First salutations to the stars.

Thanks to all relatives and ancestors.

May all beings be happy and free.

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