the beginning of Spring
This spring, equinox arrives on a moonless night. Across the bay’s blackened surface kun humpbacks exhale loudly and ḵay sealions grunt close to shore. The darkness frustrates their pursuits, as ‘iinang herring congregate in great schools at t’aanuu eelgrass meadows and hlkyaama ad ngaal bull and giant kelp forests of the bay. As the predators chase them blindly through darkness, ‘iinang jump from the surface, falling with splashes like smatterings of heavy rain.
With dawn, streams of light course through the shallows. Straight beams assume twisted forms in the outgoing tide, contorted by lumbering rollers. Here, sand and light share a singular writhing form, sculpted elegantly by incoming waves. The effervescent mediums slip across one another in near-silence with the dazzling energy of lightning. Arcing rays blend with the brilliant carapace of a juvenile sguskaahll red rock crab scurrying for shelter. Amongst the ever-emerging ripples a sdaaxam gunnel hunts its quarry with wisdom and cunning. It has also learned to assume the form of spring light, bending and waving as it slinks from stone to stone. Larger k’uust’an dungeness have also returned from the depths to the shallows. These wrestle one another in the sand, or tuck themselves beneath large boulders. At any moment one of the glacial stones might transform itself into naaw giant Pacific octopus, to pounce on unwary quarry and effortlessly tear it to shreds with strong arms.
Out towards sea blooming phytoplankton stir in green clouds, obscuring their surroundings in layers of living veils. Skittish chiitaw krill hover warily in the haze of microscopic creatures. The miniscule beings descend from a dazzling array of ancient lineages, comprising bacteria, algaes, and armoured coccolithophores. Tiny k'iiyang.ga Euphysa flammea medusa buzz back and forth to gather the phytoplankton into their basket-shaped bodies. Their pink stomachs pulsate as they brush coastal waters with their four-pronged crowns. Embedded in the seafloor below, filter feeders are also starting to harvest the planktonic wealth, enriching their gonads. These bivalves will be ready to spawn later in spring and summer. Other molluscs like G̱aalG̱ahlyan abalone, skaats’ixuu limpet, and t’aa black chiton scrape the abundance from fronds, stones, and layers of bryozoans.
Shadows of newly sprung seaweeds loom closer in the green shrouds. Herring dart in and out, however the great wracks of hlḵyaama that define Haida Gwaii’s nearshore ecosystems have months to fully mature. Kelp spores will have settled earlier in winter, growing from invisible specks to a few inches in height and lashing themselves tightly to stone anchors. By summer’s end their stipes will stretch up to up to 30 metres to lay graceful, rolling blades in surface currents. For now, with limited shelter, the herring schools must depend more on their adroitness and coordination to avoid predation.
For a time they took refuge in moonless darkness as the rich diversity of predators beleaguering them awaited dawn. Now the waxing quarter ḵung moon accompanies the jiiG̱uwaay sun as the morning of spring equinox arrives. Illumination turns its favour towards predators from sea and sky. Sḵ’in seagulls, k’yaaluu pelagic cormorants, sgaaG̱adawa pigeon guillemots, kuuxan tufted puffins, and sea ducks flock and plunge daringly from above, while taaG̱un spring salmon, sG̱an yellow eye, x̱uud seals, kun baleen whales, and ḵ’aang porpoises harry them from below. As the herring dart closer to shore, skaynang lingcod emerge from cliffside nooks to swallow them. As they dive closer to the seafloor, x̱aaguu halibut and sG̱an t’aal sole suddenly arise to engulf them. The herring’s provision will rejuvenate and energize the entire coast, echoing throughout a network of interwoven ecosystems, ensuring new life from the benthic depths to the edges of the alpine slopes.
Meadows of t’aanuu intersperse the sprawling forests of ngaal. As spring equinox brings stronger days, t’aanuu reawakens from dormancy. They will derive nutrients and sugar from new light, enriching and strengthening rhizome webs that grow thick in shallow bays atop mud and sand. Rejuvenated, they send new shoots upwards and prepare to flower and fruit.
Within a few weeks, the ngaal, hlḵyaama, and t’aanuu will become the most important sites for herring to mate. Energetic schools will cover fronds and blades with chaay fish eggs and release vast quantities of ḵ'aajii sperm, turning entire stretches of dark coastal waters white. Each ‘iinang woman can lay as many as twenty thousand chaay at a time resulting in a density of six million in a square metre. They accumulate on the ngaal fronds, weighing them down with ḵ’aaw herring spawn on kelp.
A second round of feasting will commence as sk’aa.am seastars, ts’aa.am purple shore crabs, k’aahl kelp crabs, snails, worms, seabirds, shorebirds, and X̱aaydaG̱a ‘laa isis good people eat the overwhelming mats of spawn. While their cousins the humpbacks entrap the herring schools, gray whales come right into the muddy bays to sift mouthfuls of t’aanuu for chaay. Other species take advantage of the staggering abundance in other ways. Frilled dogwinkles lay eggs on the undersides of rocks, hoping their descendants will go unnoticed. Others use their renewed vitality to lay eggs of their own, like the sḵ’in who fill their nests on reefs and rocky outcroppings.
The spring equinox brings abundance to Haida Gwaii, and X̱aaydaG̱a ‘laa isis celebrate with a busy season; harvesting xidid birds, ḵaw eggs, taaG̱un, k’yuu clams, x̱aaguu, and sG̱yuu purple laver while they wait for the herring to spawn. Over hundreds of generations, the tremendous generosity, vitality, and beauty of our nearshore ecosystems have garnered tremendous respect and love for all the ocean’s creatures.
Haawa Sins SG̱aanaG̱waay, dang G̱ahl kil ‘laa ga.
Thank you, Supernatural Power of the Cosmos, I thank you.