A thousand miles from home—he has a long way to go. He swims on a path in the vast Pacific Ocean, a path that circles halfway to Japan and back. He’s never been this way before, but he knows where he is going. He’s going back to a freshwater river, to the exact same spot from which he hatched several years before. He’s going home.
He swims with his fellow salmon. They all know it’s time to go home. They know how difficult their journey has been. Do they know how much harder their journey will yet become? Maybe they do. He and the others swim on in determination now, not even caring about food as much as about the goal.
The salmon has escaped the jaws of killer whales and other bigger fish in the salty ocean. He has escaped the nets of fishermen cast wide in the deep blue sea. More dangers lurk ahead. But he swims on to the river he knows is his own. He finds it. He can smell it. The fresh water fills his gills.
Bears know he and the others are heading this way, too. Eagles soar in the direction of the river. Hungry mouths are ready. Many salmon are caught. But this salmon, again, escapes from being such a meal. He presses on.
He has a hundred more miles to swim upstream. He has already swum a long way with the current of the river trying to push him back. He is no longer so young and his strength is being spent. But he is not through with the hurdles. Rapids lie ahead—and a waterfall.
In the rapids he must jump over many rocks with the force of rushing water running over him. Then—then he must leap seven feet up in the air to reach the top of the waterfall (as high as a ceiling). He is only three feet long himself. He tries to jump to the top. He splashes back into the water that swirls under the falls. He tries again. It’s higher than he thought. Every effort uses up part of the precious energy he has left. But he can do it. He could jump even higher if he had to. He leaps once more and clears the falls. God has given him enough strength for the task.
He is very close to home now. The scent of the water in this place tells him he is near. How can water in one stream and one place in that stream smell so different from another? It is not so different to us. We could never tell. But one tablespoon of salt in ten Olympic-sized pools would be easily detected by the salmon. He can detect even less. God has made him with this ability, too. He knows the water where he spent his first year of life growing up. He remembers it. He finds it. He is home.
Now the journey is over. He can rest, and die. A new generation of salmon will hatch and swim out into the ocean and back, even as he had done. It is the pilgrimage God gave to the salmon. It is their way of life.
It is a journey, perhaps, not unlike ours.