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THE ELWHA DAM AND SALMON

Yesterday I heard something that captured my imagination in many different ways.  One way it captured my thoughts was regarding church life.  Here is what I heard.

I was listening to a piece on the radio about the Elwha River restoration, or also known as the Elwha dam removal.  The National Parks Service in the Olympic National Park has a nice blog about the process (click here).

The suddenly release of sediment slowed the project down

LOTS OF SEDIMENT

The piece I heard by a woman named Ashley Ahearn from KUOW, was so well done that my mind created the landscape for me, but the actual photographs of the area are amazing.

What is being attempted is the restoration of the habitat for the Elwha River.  Of particular concern are the salmon.  Salmon are a big deal and for the past 100 years or so their habitat has been systematically destroyed by continual population growth and development.  The project was delayed for a while because of the large volume of sediment that was suddenly released when the dam was removed.  It will take much longer than our lifetime to restore the ecosystem.

The overall scope of the project was fascinating to me and I can easily see visiting the area for the purpose of describing a setting in a story or novel.  More than that, though, there was one particular line in the story that caught my attention.  The debate, as presented by the various personalities in the piece, centered around the return of salmon.  Some wild salmon are beginning to return, but in very small numbers, and some experts want to supplement this with hatchery salmon.  This is apparently very controversial.  The fish expert was pointing out the differences between wild salmon and hatchery salmon and he called the reporter’s attention to the fins and showed how they were distressed and added what I am sure to him was a throwaway line but to me was substantial.  He said, “the fish chew each others fins in the hatchery.”

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NOTICE THE CHEWED FINS

Wow–what a thought.  When something meant to swim in open waters is confined, aggressive behavior emerges.  We might expect that among tigers or perhaps a bear, but fish?  Yes, apparently even fish have pent up energy that just has to get out somewhere.  As you might imagine, that was when my thoughts turned toward church.  Most of the conflict I’ve ever seen at church could be described as fin chewing–fin chewing by fish who have spent too much time ‘captive’ in the church’s narcissistic programs and not enough time out in the open waters engaging the sea of life God has designed us to swim and live in.

Church doesn’t work right when it keeps all the fish busy and bundled up in the ‘hatchery’ all the time.  The greatest help to conflict, when it emerges, would be to consider which dams need removing to get the flow of fish and water moving in the right direction again.

Don’t be surprised if this idea or concept ends up in a sermon somewhere.

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