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Hydroid has joined other water droplets to form a cloud over Mount Hood.
Below, the final seven Hood River chinook are facing the last part of their
journey home. They come face to face with a big wall. It is the front of
Bonneville Dam. The fish must get past the dam. They search for the fastest
water. The water is flowing over a set of stairs. The fish use all their
strength and jump through the water over each smooth flat step. Its hard
work. Two of the fish don't make it. Five reach the large lake of
Bonneville Dam's reservoir.
Two of the chinook get lost in the reservoir. The last three chinook make it to the mouth of Hood River. They are weak from their travels. Their skin is dark. The male's snout is curved into a hook. They are thinner than when they entered the Columbia. Yet the sides of two of the fish are bulging. These are females full of eggs. They are in a hurry to build their nests.
Hood River changed in the four years they were gone. This winter, loggers cut a stand of trees from the side of the mountain. A farmer cleared forty acres of land to put in a new orchard. Others sent their cattle into the stream to drink. The cattle hooves trampled the stream bank and killed the plants, leaving a trail of mud. Spring rains washed a heavy load of dirt into the river. The water must run higher to clean the river.
The clouds next to Hydroid brush the top of Mount Hood and rain fresh water down the mountain side, through the streams and to the waiting fish. They begin to move up the river.
One of the females does not make it up Hood River. The other two move on. They have just one mile to go. There is not much time now. They must get home soon.
And there it is. A right turn and they are home at last. The stream of their birth. They were once little fish here. Now they are adult salmon, nearly four feet long. The female chooses a shallow spot in the shade of a clump of grass. The water runs fresh, but not too fast. She begins to build her nest. For the next hour, she moves over her chosen spot, flipping her tail to move the gravel into place.
Finally it feels just right. She settles in one last time. The male swims up close to her and presses her side with his body. She lays her eggs. He fertilizes them. The female moves upstream of the nest. With one last effort, she flips up fine pieces of gravel to cover and protect her eggs.
Their work done, the fish rest in the stream. In a few days, they die. Hydroid watches as their bodies drift down the stream to become food for the crows, raccoons and smaller creatures of the water. The small creatures are food for the Hood River chinook that hatch next year. The droplet has been watching the fish so closely that it has not noticed that its cloud has moved closer to the mountain.
Hydroid's cloud brushes against the tip of Mount Hood. A gentle rain falls on a small stream low on the mountain's northeast slope, 50 miles east of Portland, Oregon. Several drops hit the arching blades of grass shading a shallow pool at the edge of the stream.