The Branch Salmon
Once upon a time there was a little fish. He was one of many in a tiny tank on a fish farm. Each day he grew a little bigger and each day the tank became a little smaller. He did not know that he swam in a tiny tank or that there was something much bigger waiting for him until a most peculiar thing happened… with a scoop he was lifted, along with all the other salmon into another tank… except that this tank, and he’d have no way of knowing this, was nestled safely in the belly of a plane.
The tank grew very dark and although he had no idea what was happening as the plane barreled down the runway and lifted off the narrow airstrip, ascending high into the clouds, he had a feeling that his life was about to change. And then the darkness was gone and there was daylight. The pilot dipped the plane over a small river fed lake and after pressing and flicking a series of buttons and levers, dumped his load of stock fish. Down they fell to the welcoming lake below. Except for our little fish. He fell but he didn’t quite make it to the lake. With a thud softened by a flurry of leaves, our fish found himself high above the lake, precariously plopped atop a branch. He looked around him… the sky above, the lake below, the tree all around.
It wasn’t long before a curious songbird who had witnessed the entire spectacle of an airplane dropping fish and fish falling from the air; one not quite making it, had to get a closer look. He swooped in and landed right next to the salmon. “Who are you,” chirped the bird. “I’m Salmon,” replied the fish. The bird took this in for a minute and because he had never seen anything like salmon before, “What are you doing here?” The salmon had no plausible explanation but he was pretty sure he belonged in the lake. The bird eyed the fish and because he was clever, had a solution in no time; pointing to the salmon’s dorsal fins the songbird said, “Well just flap your wings and fly to the lake. That’s what I would do.” The fish considered this advice and thought it was sound, he shook his head in agreement. Mustering all his strength he attempted to flap his “wings,” but his dorsal fins barely even moved. The songbird was so taken aback by these useless little wings that he laughed harder than he had ever laughed before. “I’ve never seen a creature so helpless, so weak, so unable to navigate his surroundings,“ he chirped before flying off… “Pathetic,” he managed to tweet as he soared away. Salmon heard him; he felt hopeless.
Sad, alone, and certain he wouldn’t make it off the tree, a little inch worm on her way to the supple new leaves at the end of the branch, found herself face to face with a most unusual creature. “Hello,” she said. “Hello,” replied the fish. Not wanting to be rude but awfully curious, she had to ask, “You don’t look like you belong here… are you lost?” The fish, not quite sure he was lost but certain he didn’t belong there sighed… “I think I’m supposed to be in the lake down there.” The inch worm thought about this and then, because she was also clever, replied, “Whenever I want to get somewhere, I use my tail to push me forward. Maybe you can do the same?” The fish thought for a moment then decided that this was also great advice. So he summoned all his strength and swished his tail as hard as he could. The slimy tail came down on the branch with a dull thud, a throbbing pain and absolutley no movement off the branch. The fish was hopelessly stuck. The inchworm, baffled by the fish’s useless tail scoffed, “A tail that can’t get you anywhere? Imagine that!” And away she went, no longer interested in the salmon hopelessly slung over the branch. Salmon was despondent. His “wings” couldn’t fly him off the branch like the bird’s. His tail couldn’t free him from the limb like the inch worm’s. What could he do?
He wouldn’t get to think for very long before a little snake, convinced that he had just found an easy meal, slithered up the tree and found himself on the branch looking at salmon. He eyed up the salmon and when he decided there was no way he could possibly fit this fish into his unhinged jaw, looked to the fish with amusement. “Who are you,” hissed the snake. “I am Salmon,” said the fish. The snake thought about this for a moment and then, “I’ve never seen someone like you here.” The salmon sighed heavily. “I’m trying to get to the lake but I appear to be stuck.” The snake also incredibly clever, offered up, “Well when I want to move from place to place, I just use my strong body to pull me anywhere I want to go. Maybe you could give that a try?” The salmon had nothing to lose. Calling on all the remaining strength he had left, the fish tried to pull his body along the branch. There was a great straining and flashing of silvery fish skin as he tried to move his body off the branch but sadly: nothing. The fish remained very much stuck. The snake, befuddled as to how such a helpless creature could even exist, slid off in disgust, “Lame,” he scoffed. Salmon could hardly hold back his tears.
His ”wings” wouldn’t work. His tail was a joke. And his body couldn’t even manage to move him an inch. Salmon had lost almost all hope when he heard a sound. A voice from below, “My goodness! Look at you! You don’t belong here!” It was a hiker that just happened to be enjoying the beautiful weather in that little valley down by the lake. Ever so gently she reached into the tree and plucked the salmon from the branch. “Here you go, little guy, back to your home!” And with a cool splash he was out of the kind woman’s hands and back into the lake where he knew he belonged. The fish was so happy to be in the lake but he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of despair. He still had “wings” that didn’t fly him off the branch; a tail that couldn’t shake him from the tree; and a body that barely had the strength to flip him back into the cool water below. What good was he. Sad, salmon began to cry. A wise old turtle, awoken by the crying salmon, lifted his heavy body out of the mud and paddled towards the despondent fish. “Why do you cry,” asked the turtle. Through sniffles and sobs, the fish managed to tell his sad story to the turtle. The turtle took it all in, listening quietly and nodding his head in understanding. And when the fish was done with his tale and his head hung low in shame, the turtle responded… “You weren’t in your element. Of course your ’wings’ didn’t lift you off the branch, or your tail didn’t slap you off the bough, nor could your body move you along the bark… You’re a fish!” Salmon thought about this but felt no better; turtle, sensing this added, “You can’t expect to soar like a bird or crawl like an inchworm or slither like a snake; that‘s not what you’re meant for. And you can’t succeed at what you’re not meant for.“ And then the wise turtle, having witnessed many a strong and powerful salmon swim miles upstream; beating the swift current at its own game mused, ”Stick to what you know, stick to what you were meant to do; to be… and you will go so very far my friend.” With that the turtle was gone and the salmon didn’t feel nearly as bad.
Salmon, considering what the turtle had said, flicked his tail… he shot forward. His tail wasn’t useless! And then with a renewed sense of purpose, he mustered all the strength in his body, tail and dorsal fins and he sped through the lake with a tremendous speed he had never reached in his tiny farm tank. He felt joy like he had never felt before and he couldn’t help but launch himself into the air in a jubilant leap; his “wings” steering him through the cool sky as he came down with a splash. Again he leapt and jumped and swam and before he even knew it, he had swam right out of that lake, and upstream some several miles before he found himself somewhere very unfamiliar: the ocean. The ocean was big but salmon was not scared. Salmon knew he was where he belonged, doing what he was supposed to do. Salmon was in his element. Salmon’s esteem soared and he never again thought of himself as less than… he was doing what he was meant to do and he had, as turtle had said he would, come very far indeed.
Until you’re doing what you’re meant to do… you‘re nothing more than a branched salmon: you will only go so far or nowhere at all. Find your element, find your lake; quit looking back at the time you spent floundering on the branch and instead get off the bough and focus on using your gifts and strengths to do what you always knew you were made for. And when you can do what you were always meant to do? You too will go far. This is my promise to myself.
*Original artwork by Dr. Seuss and edited by yours truly