Arts & Entertainment Environment

Poetry walk celebrates Donkey Creek salmon run

Posted on September 3rd, 2021 By:

Take a walk along Donkey Creek from now through November and you’ll discover nine metal plaques placed along the bank, each containing a poem celebrating the salmon that call the creek home.

The poetry walk is the brainchild of Gig Harbor resident Jennifer Preston Chuschoff. She calls it the Echology project.

A poem written on a trailside plaque at the end of Gig Harbor Bay celebrates Donkey Creek salmon.

One of the nine poems celebrating Donkey Creek salmon stands beside a trail leading toward Gig Harbor Bay. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now

The word Echology is Chuschoff’s play on “echo” and “ecology,” with “echo” evoking the image of ripples created when a stone is tossed into calm water. It also suggests the idea that what goes around, comes around, she said.

“Everything that we do creates a ripple, or echo, that reverberates through time, especially in our environment. Echology highlights our unique ability to witness up-close the November return of chum salmon to Donkey Creek Park and our opportunity to help protect the process.”

Her first experience in watching spawning salmon was in Gig Harbor.“It was an emotionally powerful moment and I’ll never forget it,” she said.

She uses the term “ecological” rather than “environmental” because ecology deals with the relationships between all organisms and their physical surroundings, she said.

A poem by Washington State poet laureate Rene Priest is staked along a path in Gig Harbor

Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest wrote one of the poems. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now

For the project, funded by a Creative Endeavors grant from the Gig Harbor Arts Commission, Chuschoff contacted local poets to write poems inspired by the ecology of the Salish Sea or salmon.

She sought out local poets with a variety of perspectives because, she said, a diverse group of voices offers new ways of looking at things, which is an important goal of art.

Selected poets include a recent Peninsula High school graduate, Elijah Brambila; author D.L. Fowler; former Tacoma poet laureate Josie Emmons Turner; Rena Priest, the current Washington State poet laureate; current Tacoma poet laureate Lydia K. Valentine; and other local writers.

Priest is an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She is the first Indigenous person to hold that honor. Her Echology poem “Cycloid, Focus and Circuli” was inspired by the fact that the growth on a fish scale is similar to growth rings on a tree.

Two women stop to read a poem staked along a path near Donkey Creek in Gig Harbor.

Visitors along the Poetry Walk path stop to read one of the poems about Donkey Creek salmon, which swim up the stream in the fall to spawn. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now

Fowler made his first visit to the Puget Sound 50 years ago and immediately fell in love. Salmon fishing with his new father-in-law played a role in his decision to make Gig Harbor his home a few years later. For his poem, “Donkey Creek’s Rebirth,” he researched the stream’s history.

“I was moved to celebrate its rebirth — from a neglected treasure, overrun and abused, to a crown jewel of the harbor’s heritage and a reminder of the important role salmon play in our ecosystem,” he said.

Emmons, now a Gig Harbor resident, tells the story of the birth–death-rebirth cycle of salmon in her “Salmon Spirit” poem.

Valentine’s poem “sčədádxʷ: həlíʔ-du-but” contains many Lushootseed words. Valentine notes that “sčədádxʷ” means “salmon or sea-going trout” in txʷəlšucid (Twulshootseed) or Southern Lushootseed, the primary dialect of the Suquamish, Duwamish, Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Nisqually and Squaxin people. “həlíʔ-du-but” means “recover, one’s soul returns” in Lushootseed. She credits Aryana Sherman and Misti Saenz-Garcia for their help with the language.

Most of the participating poets will read their poems aloud during this fall’s annual Chum Festival, tentatively scheduled for November.

A turquoise poetry plaque stands along a trail near Donkey Creek in Gig Harbor.

One of nine poem plaques installed on the Echology Poetry Walk. The community will help to write a 10th one. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now

Currently there are nine poems installed on metal plaques along the creek. A 10th poem will be written by the people of Gig Harbor.

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“I’m asking people to send me a short line of poetry, or just a few words, about how important salmon have always been in our area, or about the autumn return of the salmon to our local waters and why it’s so important for us to protect the salmon and their habitat,” Chuschoff said.

She’ll weave together the words and phrases to form the 10th poem, which she’ll have printed on a plaque and placed with the others along the Poetry Walk.

“It’s an opportunity for the whole community to get involved,” she said. “That final poem will sort of close the circle.”

Email your poetry words to [email protected] by Sept. 15.

To learn more about the Echology project and the contributing poets, go to byjenn.com/echology.