They throw their scarlet bodies over rocks and through currents. They arch and shake to hold their place in the cold water that rushes, rushes.

Their every scale quakes and burns with the struggle upstream.

And the river is filled with flames.

Evidence of brothers and sisters who exhausted themselves or made tragic wrong turns sprinkle the rocks, bodies bleached by sun and night cold.

My heart thumps with the beautiful and the horrible of their grueling journey, and I cannot stop watching the kokanee salmon.

One fish seems to hold back water for another to leap and washes downstream. A smaller one thrusts, pushes and catches wrong currents, and I wonder how long he can continue.

A bright red fish moves into a calm spot that another struggles to fill, and the slow one falls back, back, back.

That September weekend, my dear friend and I cry at the mass migration up Wallowa River to the lake.

We understand.

Their every movement echoes the humming inside our own fragile bodies. This humanity collective:

Survive.

Live.

Don’t give up fighting.

I sit on the bank and watch scaled forms take on legs and arms.

I think of the brutal struggle and those who don’t make it. The sick and anguished. The boy from high school who always smiled, who hung himself in his garage.

I see faces of friends, family, teachers. Times they held back current for me. Days nothing I tried worked, when I questioned what I believed, who I was, and they held the space.

I think of my prayer friends and our Friday mornings and coffee and tears, confession and deep honest. I remember the alone and undone and how they sat at my feet, held tight to me and prayed, reminded me of who I am, pushed me upstream.

I think of my sister, eyes knowing what no one else can and understanding with no words and a fierce, scarlet love for each other and each other’s.

I think of my husband, and his hands and his gaze, loving with no maybes, taking the current for me.

I think of my mother-in-law and her quiet, steady, unasking love, and how that moves me to love better. Keep going.

I think of my mama and papa, encouragers and lovers of my soul, telling me I can do anything. Feel, love, dream. Don’t ever give up.

I think of my high school girlfriends and our annual weekends away and the sharing of sorrows and all the eating and walking arms linked and watching Oscars in piles on the floor and couch. How my cheeks hurt from the smiling and laughter and how good it feels to be known by people since you were a kid.

I think how just one year ago I felt safe enough to read aloud what I’d been writing, and they cheered me on and helped open me to possibilities. Pushed me upstream.

I think of ones who pulled me down, mostly without intending, who crushed parts of dreams. Ones who crossed my section of the stream for a time and washed away to a place I cannot see.

The water keeps right on rushing, and it is cold, and it is hard.

And the sun shines overhead.

We flesh struggle, and we pour everything into holding our place, and we ready ourselves to throw and thrust, and sometimes we think we swim upstream alone.

We are all flaming red, pulsing with horrible and beautiful life.

Hearts thumping, LIVE.

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