Labor Day weekend on Quilcene Bay, schools of salmon surge into the bay on their way to spawn up the Big and Little Quilcene Rivers. Technically, salmon are a run rather than a school, because schools of fish swim closely together in the same direction, turning and/or swirling as a group. But standing on the bridge on Linger Longer Road, and leaning over to watch the singular massive run of salmon so thick I imagine walking on their backs, they appear as a salmon school. In Quilcene Bay, at low or minus tide, only shallow streams remain, so that people hurry onto the flats before dawn to snag or net a fish left behind while other salmon made it up river beforechanging tide. It is rough going for low tide salmon, and when the tide swells into the bay, tribal boats return with nets to harvest their share of fish before the salmon reach the river’s mouth.
Labor Day weekend is also “ back to” people schools. As a career teacher, Labor Day always felt like New Year’s Day: time for resolutions, clean starts, determination to “do it right this year.” And like the salmon, looking ahead sometimes appeared to be upstream. Have you seen a salmon up close when it works its way over river rocks, determined to spawn? Most often its flesh is torn, its color altered and shape swollen. The journey is physically life-changing.
Now, early September we are sending our children off to school, meeting along the way with friends to walk away from us up the river to whatever their unseen destination may be. It comforts us knowing our children are not alone, but they are truly away from us, surrounded by new companions. Along their way some force may deter them or harm them. It is no small thing that children today in their first days of orientation are trained how to respond to an active shooter. In my childhood there were “duck and cover” drills to protect us from an atomic bomb likely dropped by Russians. Oh, how little protection our desks would provide! And our parents wouldn’t be by our side. Parents will always stand on the shore when it is back-to-school.
We don’t know where Jesus attended school, or if he did attend other than synagogue and standing by his father’s carpentry bench As far as we know, he was “home schooled.” Yet, when we first read of him at age twelve – middle school years – he had been separated from his parents, lost on a Sunday School day, although being Jewish it was probably a Saturday. His mother, anxiously separated from her son, found him at last teaching the religious scholars. What a surprising reversal of roles that must have been. I imagine Mary seeing her boy in a crowd and finding him behaving like a man, physically transformed before her eyes. She will be by his side again at his death as iconic pietas remind us. Most other art of Mary with Jesus portrays the infant protectively swaddled in her arms. But wasn’t that loving embrace what must have braced him for life going forward?
I struggled with the title of this Comma Blog. Having started with Back to School, in the process of writing about salmon swimming upstream, or children boarding school busses, I realized that the day after Labor Day is not going back, whether to the same river or the same schoolhouse. The movement is forward, bodies and minds changed from the previous year. Although the salmon’s destination is its reproductive determination, our children’s destination transcends our awareness, knowing only that we send them off carrying in their backpacks years of our love with which they will make their way.