Sockeye Salmon – an Amazing Fish

Remembering Sockeye Work

Rich Patterson and Kammi Matson of the Popsie Fish Company

In early July we enjoyed an amazing natural phenomenon at the Campbell Creek Science Center in Anchorage, AK.  We walked with our daughter to the small stream that gives the Center its name and spotted splotches of red in quieter stretches of the Creek.

Sockeye Salmon were resting there after wriggling up rushing riffles and rapids. Seeing the fish brought back Rich’s 50-year memory of the scientific work he did on this fish species a half-century before.

Man with salmon

Red salmon spawning color and kype.

In 1972 he was stationed at the Ugashik Tower on a remote river about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. The task of his crew was to count Red Salmon migrating upstream and to report numbers to the head biologist in the town of King Salmon. Counting was done by perching in a riverbank tower made of aluminum scaffolding, peering into the water, and counting fish swimming by.


At first, work was boring. No salmon were in the river. Then a miraculous change happened. Rich glanced downstream to view a river of red plowing upstream against the strong current. For two weeks, night and day, salmon passed the tower on their way upstream.

Salmon Species

Five species of salmon are native to North America while a sixth only lives in Asia.  All are anadromous, meaning that they hatch in freshwater but spend much of their life in the sea before returning to their natal stream to spawn. While other Pacific salmon like the King, Chum, Silver, and Pink, feed on chunky animals, mostly small fish, Sockeyes, or Reds as they are called in Alaska, prefer different food.

What is Unique About Sockeye?

Most Sockeyes spawn in the gravel of small tributary streams that feed Alaska’s vast lakes of Iliamna, Becherof, Naknek, Ugashik, and others. Tiny fish descend the stream and usually spend two years swimming around the lake straining plankton from the water until they reach roughly sardine size. Then, on a few April nights, millions of salmon, called smolts, descend the big rivers to Bristol Bay. For the next two years, they circle the vast Pacific once or twice, eating zooplankton, small fish, and squid. They swim with their mouths open so their filter-like gills can strain tiny animals from the water.

When a smolt enters the Bay at two years old it weighs under an ounce. Think of that! When it returns from the nutrient-rich ocean two years later it weighs between six and 12 pounds!

For most of their lives, Red Salmon are not red. They’re silvery. When entering freshwater their skin quickly turns bright red and their heads green. Males grow a formidable-looking hooked snout. On their journey, they cross a  lake and mate in small feeder streams beyond.

Sockeye are probably the most delicious of all fish, eagerly caught by commercial fishers based in Bristol Bay to be canned, flash frozen, or shipped fresh to consumers around the world. The best-tasting fish are caught before their skin reddens, but their rich flesh is always bright red.

How Do We Avoid Overfishing?

Processing salmon

Processing salmon

Most people realize that overfishing devastated the once vast schools of  Atlantic Cod off New England and Canada. So, how can science work with commercial and sport fishers to ensure that Alaska’s red salmon remain abundant while providing a generous harvest of delicious food?

In theory, it’s simple. Let enough fish “escape” nets and hooks to spawn a new generation and add the fertility of their dead bodies into the water to nourish the plankton that feed youthful salmon. In practice, it’s more complex.

Biologists rely on electronics and human eyes to make sure enough salmon ascend rivers to keep numbers high and sustainable. Fishers are allowed to catch the surplus. It works. Vast numbers of Red Salmon, perhaps as many as 50 million, were caught and shipped in 2022 while plenty of escapees spawned. Anyone can enjoy eating a salmon filet knowing it’s not sending Red Salmon the way of the  Atlantic Cod.

How Can You Get the BEST Sockeye in Iowa?

We love eating Sockeye Salmon and prefer grilling it over a gentle wood fire. The trouble is we live in Iowa. No salmon here, but a few years ago we were able to buy Egegik River fish from a local meat market that has since gone out of business. We now order from the Popsie Fish Company, which sends ten pounds of frozen filets to our home.

Popsie caught these fish near Alaska’s second largest lake, Becharof. That’s close to where Rich worked years ago at Ugashik. The Egegik River flows from Lake Becharof to Bristol Bay.

To order fish go to Popsie’s website. To see Sockeye in their red-colored glory without the need to fly to the distant Alaska Peninsula visit the Campbell Creek Science Center in mid-July in Anchorage and walk along a pleasant trail to the Creek. Its salmon run is modest in size but easily accessed.


Losing Oreo: the Death of a Pet Leaves Sadness

We’re not normally pet people. Never had a dog or cat. When our children were growing up, we had bunnies. After they grew up and left home years ago, we cared for the bunnies left over from their youth and adopted a couple from Kirkwood Community College in the early 2010s. When the last bunny died in 2015, we were petless and had no intention of adopting an animal.

Oreo Comes to Our House

Then, a call came just as the pandemic gained strength in early 2020. A family was moving out of state and couldn’t bring Oreo, their pet rabbit, along. Would we take her in?  It looked like we’d be confined to home to stay disease safe, so we said, “Yes”.

Oreo was an indoor bunny and came complete with the hutch, food, and supplies. Soon she settled into her comfortable hutch in our den near where Marion does office work. She did more. We quickly learned she’s smart, funny, clean, inquisitive, and a good friend.


She learned to go “Into the hutch” with some treats inside. Sometimes she led us on a merry chase around the den before she hopped in.  Under the table, into her habitat, under the desk, under the heater, behind the trash bin, and back under the table.  All along we said quietly, “Into the hutch.”

We tried to encourage her to chew on wood in the hutch (not furniture and doors!) by rubbing yogurt treats on the wood. Well, she learned to lick off the flavor instead of chewing the wood we gave her.

We often sat on the back deck in mild weather and even on nice winter days.  To keep bugs out we hung a temporary screen at the back door that closed with magnets.  Oreo quickly learned to nose under the screening to go in or out at will when we sat outside.

Clean Office Assistant

She’d roar out of her hutch in the morning and park by the computer grooming herself. She spent much of the day resting on the floor by the desk when Marion typed, and we soon called her our able office assistant. Every so often she’d stretch and want attention. She’d nudge Marion’s pant leg with her nose for a scratch behind the ears and rub under the chin. If that didn’t work, she’d scratch the pant leg.  If THAT didn’t work, she’d thump. That usually got the attention she wanted.


She’d romp around the deck while we were reading the morning paper and gleefully dig in a sandbox that we created for her.  Rich would dangle his arm low and she’d come over for a rub.  He’d switch hands to the other side of the chair and Oreo was right there for continued love. Each evening was “treat” time. A Russell’s Rabbit orange or green “cookie.” Rich broke it into pieces and Oreo would grab a piece and hope two feet away and nibble on it, then return for more pieces. We learned, don’t even think about patting her while she was eating!

Did You Know Rabbits Vocalize?

She vocalized with a growl if annoyed and when nervous or upset she squeaked.

Loyal Friend

This past year, when we left for a few days and neighbors watched her they reported that she stood up on her hind legs, looked around, and seemed to wonder, “Where are they?” Because she could see us go up and down the stairs evenings and mornings from her hutch, she learned we disappeared up there. So when we were gone, she even went to the foot of the stairs and looked up wondering, “Are they there?”

During the pandemic, she gave us laughs and companionship. She was a fun companion. So, fun that perhaps we didn’t recognize how much a part of our lives she’d become.

Saying Goodbye

Although only about five years old, one morning we found much blood in her hutch that came from urine and, perhaps, her intestines. Concerned, we took her to Bright Eyes and Busy Tails in Iowa City.

Their staff were kind and knowledgeable and confirmed that the blood was caused by an unknown internal problem. They could do tests and maybe take action. Surgery perhaps.  “What did we want to do?” they asked.   We talked it over and rejected intensive testing and possible resulting, expensive, and uncomfortable techniques. Actions that would ultimately result in the same ending. Sadly, we requested euthanasia for our friendly Oreo. It was done peacefully and painlessly while we held her and sang her special “Oreo Song” that Marion sang to her several times a day while scratching behind her ears and rubbing under her chin.

Part of the Prairie

That afternoon we buried Oreo beneath the wildflowers of our prairie, along with the other bunnies. But, sadness lingers. We miss her. We talk with her in the spot where her hutch once was.  We visit her grave.

We know the sadness will fade over time and we’ll glance at her photos occasionally.  Mostly we feel gratitude for the time she shared her life with us. And all the bunnies our family has had as friends. We posted a Salute to Bunnies on YouTube.

The Oreo Song

“Oreo the bunny, you’re so funny. Oreo the bunny 1, 2, 3.
Oreo the bunny, the black and white bunny, You came to live with Rich and me.
You have two black ears and two black eyes and black spots down your back.
You have a black and white nose and four white paws that go clickity clack
On the deck or on the dining room floor when you go to explore.
Oftener than not, you stretch right out by the threshold door.
You’re a good little friend. You came to our house. You came to live with us.
You run around. You “binky”. Sometimes you thump. Then, you’re quiet as a mouse.”

Be well, Spirit of Oreo, and all loved pets everywhere.


Pandemic Year 2.0 Busier than Busy!

Coming up to a year from the last post on the features we wrote for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, here is an updated list for the second half of 2021 and the first half (almost) of 2022. These features are in addition to our regular work with Hoover’s Hatchery blogs and FB Live and our own blogs for Winding Pathways.

May 8, 2022. Splish Splash! Whitewater Kayaking in Iowa. (No link to date)

April 22, 2022. Finding America On Roadways East.

April 13, 2022. Muscle Over motor When Boating.

March 21, 2022. Rockhounding.

January 30, 2022. Backpacking Bonus. (8B of GZ. No link to date) Available Green Gazette.

January 24, 2022. Distinctive Religious Structures.

January 16, 2022. Hiking Wild Areas. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette.

December, 2021. Country Schools. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette

November 15, 2021. Making a (Mini) Pitch for Soccer.

October 6, 2021. A visit with Midwest’s Pioneering Authors.

September 8, 2021. Taking a Slow Boat to Cassville.

September 6, 2021. Camping in Iowa’s Trout Country & Decorah’s Celebrities.

August 4, 2021. Parking While Headed East. And Solar Panels at Peoples.

Why give Blood?

Both Marion and Rich at Winding Pathways are regular blood donors. Rich will reach a milestone in early April. He’ll give his 100th unit of blood to Impact Life in Cedar Rapids.  Marion’s not far behind.

Giving blood is easy, costs nothing, and is a way we can help other people. Here are some interesting blood donation facts:

  • An average donation is used to help three people, so Rich’s 100 donations have helped around 300 people and maybe saved some lives.
  • A unit of blood averages about 500 milliliters, or a little more than a pint. Rich’s have averaged about 528 ml, so he’s given about 112 gallons over decades of giving.
  • A person has 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood in their body, and a donation takes about 10% of it. The body replaces the lost blood. Donation centers require eight weeks between donations to allow for replenishment.
  • Blood is typically given to people during surgery or for treatment of conditions like Sickle Cell Disease; to those who have suffered a trauma, like an accident; and during surgery or childbirth if needed.
Pretty blood band!

Giving blood is easy. And, Marion gets a cool blood band decoration!

We hope we’ll never need blood but if we do we’ll quietly thank the unknown donor.   Both Marion and Rich at Winding Pathways encourage everyone to become blood donors.

How Can Parents Influence Your Childhood Passions?

Keep the Photos!

An old photo or letter can bring back memories. That happened to Rich recently and helped him recognize both good parenting and a lifelong passion.

Rich was sorting through a stack of family documents when he discovered a paper his mother wrote in his “baby” book.  Written in 1959, when Rich was nine, it stated that he wanted to be a chicken farmer!  Of all things for a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey to say.

Rich became fascinated with chickens while only four or five years old. By the time his mother wrote in the book he had learned many chicken breeds. Another letter, dated May 5, 1959, was written as an exercise in his elementary school. The teacher was teaching students letter writing.  Rich’s note to his mother said:

Thank you for taking me to the chicken farm. Now I know what a black hen looks like. I now know why one costs more than a Leghorn. I’m going to cook breakfast for you.  Happy Mother’s Day. Love, Rich

A Budding Entrepreneur

A third document is an account of how many eggs his hens laid each day and a bill presented to a customer. 65 cents for a dozen in 1960. Adjusted for inflation that dozen would cost $6.50 today.

A pair of photos show 13-year-old Rich at his junior high school science fairs. One science project was titled, The Effect of Vitamin E on the Hatchability of Chicken Eggs, and the other demonstrated an incubator.

What Do These Documents Signify?

  • Great parenting. It must have seemed weird to his parents that their young child had such an unusual passion, but they helped, learned, and encouraged.
  • Chickens helped teach math, animal care, writing, business, and research methods.
  • Chickens became a lifelong passion.

Rich encourages parents to encourage their children’s passions. They might lead to lifelong hobbies and, perhaps, even a career.

Update on Careers

Rich never became a chicken farmer, per se, but he is co-owner of Winding Pathways where we encourage people to be creative in how they interact with nature and to consider backyard chicken raising. He developed another passion, fish, and earned a degree in fishery biology, and served as a biologist in Alaska.

What’s a Nor’Easter?

New England’s Nor’easter January 29-20, 2022
by Susan Fellows, guest blogger

What is a Nor-easter?

Dover, NH, 4:00 a.m. Temperature 5 degrees. The wind chill is probably close to -10 degrees. Wind gusts 40-45 mph throughout the day. What is a blizzard?  Wind gusts more than 35 mph. Snow blowing and drifting. Visibility less than 1/4 mile.  All more than three hours. We grew up with blizzards, know them well, and call them Nor’easters.

The description above is what I saw outside my living room window all day on January 29, 2022, in excess of eight hours. There is a large green space next to my apartment building with a stand of pine trees at the far end, where there is no snow. An area just outside my apartment going out about 20-30 feet where the wind blew the snow off all day long made it look like we had only a dusting of snow.  Beyond that, snow accumulated up to 1″-2″ per hour for several hours.  Most of the day, I could not see the trees which are less than a 1/4 mile away.

Following the Progress of the Storm

The well-predicted storm made its way up the coast from South Carolina, past Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York to New England. Snowfall reported in Bridgewater, MA, totaled 32″!  Out at Wellfleet on the south side of Cape Cod, wind gusts reached 82 mph. Fortunately, in Dover, NH, we weren’t hit with as much snow and wind gusts were in the 40 mph range. Most of the day and into the evening I watched snow blowing horizontally past the windows. Whiteout! An all-day blizzard.

Venturing Out

Snow on security door.

Opening the door was difficult

7:30 p.m. I decided to get my mail if there was any. True to the USPO motto, through rain, wind, snow, and dark of night the Post Office did deliver the mail! Getting out my door was difficult as the snow had accumulated to about three feet. So, it was hard to open the door.  Along the sidewall of the building I trudged. Not as much snow there.  But, once I reached the lobby door, I had to get to the security post to swipe my key fob to open that door. Snow spilled into my boots and I had to shove the door open about a foot to squeeze through. After picking up my mail, I made my way back to my apartment.




Manager & Snow Crews Respond to Safety Concern

The snowfall seemed to be easing up but it was hard to tell as the wind still picked up and carried snow horizontally past my window. Remembering that some Eastern big cities had had fires in apartments recently, I was concerned with conditions by the exit doors. So, I called the answering service of the apartment complex. Shortly our maintenance supervisor returned my call.  I explained the situation and my concern that in case of an emergency requiring evacuation of the building the other residents might not be able to get safely out. He replied that the snow removal team would return the next morning. After some discussion, with the supervisor being unrelenting with his statement that the team would be back in the morning, I simply asked who would be liable if an evacuation were needed and people could not safely get out. Then, I hung up.

Soon after the property manager called, respected the fact that I was observing the conditions and he wasn’t.  He called the supervisor of the snow removal team.  Within the hour they arrived!  I was relieved!

Blindingly Beautiful

Sunday, January 30, 2022. The day dawned bright and beautiful! What a change from not being able to see because of the blizzard!  People were out with their pets and children enjoying the light, fluffy snow. The snow removal team cleared the overflow lots and residents moved their cars so the parking log could be properly cleared.  Gigantic piles of snow were all over the place and sidewalks, doorways, and cars cleared of the eight inches of reported snow.  One town, right on the ocean about 12 miles away, got the state’s grand total of 13.5″. The wind, she kept on blowing and the temperatures were bitterly, brutally cold.

The next day, in appreciation, I called the supervisor to thank the crews for coming out in the storm and making sure residents were safe.

Prior to the storm, everyone had been told to stay off the roads, which they did.  All-day Saturday, I had watched a storm tracker show from a Boston station. Indeed except for plows and utility crews restoring power, the roadways were clear of vehicles.

I LOVE SNOW and this was quite an event!