My Road to Damascus Moment
One of my clearest recurring childhood memories is that of spawning salmon. They ran up Devil’s Gulch, in Marin County, California, throwing themselves against the current, willing themselves over stones and flotsam-packed barriers of leaves and debris, onward past the limits of exhaustion, only to pause in deep pools, hidden beneath the oaks and towering redwoods lining the creek’s steep banks, recharging in anticipation of yet another upstream surge. These salmon were here to spawn, lay eggs, then die. This struggle of animal against nature was a yearly childhood event, one that connected me, even as a young boy, to the mysterious natural world around me. Decades later, I was justifiably excited to share this experience with my own daughter.
When February came, my wife and I bundled her in a coat, scarf, and mud boots, and hiked the trail leading up from Lagunitas Creek to Devil’s Gulch. The salmon weren’t there. As I would later learn, this spawning ground had collapsed years before. Theories abounded. Overfishing. A golf course built beside a nearby stream. Runoff from a hillside housing project. No one knew for sure. What happened to the Devil’s Gulch salmon of my childhood? How many other people, folks just like me, have their own childhood stories of close encounters with a natural world that has since vanished?
We are living within the Great Change—it’s happening at this moment—but the shift isn’t sudden. It won’t startle us into action. This is a gradual change. A creeping change, imperceptible from one day to the next. It’s industrial, technological, and dehumanizing. We can’t see the Great Change because it lacks immediacy; we tend to forget it’s happening. The witnesses to these “before and afters” in the natural world, the people who still remember the “Way Things Used to Be,” are disappearing, dying off. The amazing salmon runs of my childhood are gone from Devil’s Gulch.
That winter morning, as I attempted, without success, to show my five-year-old daughter precisely what she wasn’t seeing in that creek, I had my “Road to Damascus” moment. I want to bring those salmon back. I want my daughter to share these memories, to understand the complexity of things, to one-day restore the natural order of Devil’s Gulch. To do that she’ll need to understand the meaning and function of all those moving parts, the nameless pieces powering this modern industrial apparatus we’ve created. We’ve all had Devil’s Gulch moments. We’ve all felt powerless when confronted by systems composed of parts we depend on yet don’t understand. We live in a world of dwindling natural resources, but the principle of sustainability offers us a road map for managing what we have left.
The above is an excerpt from LOCAL: The New Face of Food & Farming in America by Douglas Gayeton