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Echology on Donkey Creek Trail

A poetic reflection on cycles

By Rachel Kelly

Photos by Jennifer Chushcoff

With the return of salmon to our local waters, Echology is here to honor the process through written word. A combination of the words “echo” and “ecology,” Echology is a series of plaques that display locally written poems along the Donkey Creek Trail. Each poem is written on the subject of cycles, the natural rhythm of nature that salmon follows as it returns to its birthplace to spawn. While Echology is meant to honor nature in all its wonders, specifically salmon, the project is more than that. Echology is an invitation, a reflection on where our own place in nature lies.

“Donkey Creek was one of the first places that I saw salmon,” recalls Jennifer Chushcoff. Jennifer was the recipient of this year's Creative Endeavor Grant, and the creator and organizer of Echology. “It’s quite the experience to witness the struggle, the drive for that final push upriver after traveling hundreds of miles. Something has called them home ….”

As she contemplated the use of the Creative Endeavor Grant, her mind traveled back through her memories to places where she felt most at ease. The intrinsic mystery of the lifecycle of salmon, the push and pull of life and death, seemed to ripple into her consciousness. She wanted to create a space in nature where others could not only experience nature’s healing balm but appreciate the wonder of that same mystery.

She thought she would combine her talents for different mediums within art, as well as represent the varying voices within our community. Much like the many salmon that swim in one river, so are we, in many perspectives, along the same path. “I’ve always enjoyed exploring the intersection of visual and literary art. The natural world and the way it shapes us, and in turn, the way we shape it,” and so Echology was born.

For Jennifer, nature is a place of respite, rest and rejuvenation. Participation in nature is an intrinsic part of being human. Judging by the sheer number of people who find themselves out in nature at all times of the year in the majestic Pacific Northwest, it would seem that Jennifer is right. We are eager to participate in, observe, love and protect the nature that nurtures us. We recognize the importance of getting in our regular dose of outdoors, cherishing the habitats and species that make it possible. A walk through Echology along Donkey Creek Trail seems like the perfect combination of art, reflection, relaxation and conservation.

There are 10 plaques along the Donkey Creek Trail, nine of which are filled with selected poems by local authors that vary in their perspectives and cultures. Authors such as Elijah Brambila, who is a graduating senior from Peninsula High School. Or Rena Priest, who is a member of the Lhaq’temish nation. There’s DJ Fowler, who is an award-winning author and poet. And Brett Marlo, who is best known for Brett Marlo Design Build. There’s previous Tacoma Poet Laureate Josie Edmonds Turner, and the current Poet Laureate Lydia K. Valentine. Local Whistling Shade writer Justin Teerlinck, and local photographer and real estate agent Cathy Warner. Each creative contributes a unique perspective, fulfilling an important aspect of art. The last, but certainly not the least, contributor was us. The 10th plaque showcases a community poem.

Jennifer achieved this poem sending out a call to the community for contributions. The contributions were then combined and edited, culminating in a poem made of many voices. In this way the trail is representative of community collaboration, fulfilling vital commonplace ideals such as discovery and inclusion. Echology on Donkey Creek Trail is not simply just a project by Jennifer Chushcoff, or a highlight of local authors. Although both are true. It doesn’t just honor salmon in nature, although it does do that. Echology is also a project by us; it honors our place in nature. It is a reminder to us that we’re a part of this whole complex cycle. Our voices are heard and seen and live eternal through the legacy that we set in motion as we go along. We survive and thrive in our community, and as individuals. In observing the salmon, we find that we are much like them.

As we walk in nature, we seem to find our place. As the river embraces its now aged salmon, it fosters its young even as the parents lay on the bottom of the riverbed to rest. Echology reminds us that everything in nature has its part. As a part of that whole, we too send echoes out into the world throughout our life. We fulfill a purpose: We nurture, we relinquish, and we foster. Just as we have been affected, we also affect. Throughout our lives we participate in the ripples that undulate along the ocean, and end on the riverbank.

To quote Da Vinci, “When you put your hand in a flowing stream you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.”

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