|Carlene and I biking in the rain with a friend.|
This experience and sensitivity makes us very sympathetic to salmon and trout and their challenges related to thermal dams—those stretches of water too warm for salmonids to live in or cross—and other issues of chemical pollution. When we pedal into perfumed dryer exhaust our heads hurt, our throats ache, our eyes water and there is a general sense of panic and disorientation. I do not know exactly what happens to cold water fish when they hit these warm spots or irritating chemicals, but I suspect there are similar or related impacts as their lateral lines and nostrils sense the temperatures and waterborne chemicals they encounter. It would make sense that fish have engrained mechanisms to cause them to avoid—where possible—these kind of harmful phenomena.
What makes dryer sheets and thermal dams so nearly analogous is that unless you are chemically sensitive or a cold water fish these areas look just like normal roads or streams to you. The analogy breaks down in one regard: When my wife and I encounter dryer exhaust laced with chemicals we can make a U-turn and find another road with cleaner air that leads us to our destination, salmon and trout simply do not have that option.
Carlene ridding the Nooksack of trash another "good neighbor" action
for salmon and steelhead. Photo by Paul Anderson.
and steelhead. It is a little like the tired joke about the impossibility of being overdrawn at the bank because there are still checks in the checkbook. Our shrinking snow packs in the Pacific Northwest are really the “paychecks” that keeps the system going and right now they are not sufficient to avoid a set of riverine waterscapes littered with thermal dams or worse—trickles, mud or dust. And even where waters are on the edge of adequate the trout and salmon are thermally stressed enough that considering proposed actions such as suction dredging—specious under the most robust conditions—have to be taken off the table immediately.
Even in Vermont in the dead of winter there are places to hang
clothes to have energy and provide humidity.
My wife and I come into our bike riding out of enjoyment and now find we miss it when we don’t. We gravitated to dryer avoidance out of health-driven necessity and climatic obligation that are leading to satisfaction as well as excitement over finding other ways such as rain barrels where we can be better neighbors to salmon and steelhead. We would encourage others to do the same. It is worth the effort.