Editor’s  note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years  ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was  the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in  Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

In late summer I walk up Marsh Creek to look in its bright waters for the few salmon that now return. I find them before or at spawning if I’m lucky, but most often afterward, as they drift and whiten, melting their packets of ocean into mountain waters and creatures.

I am amazed that Walt Whitman echoes them at the end of Song of Myself.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

He perhaps did not know he was describing salmon and their chain of profusion to disassembly to reconstitutions. Or that he would foretell, 150 years later, the still sturdy presence of their almost-absence, waiting for us.

Emily Dickinson echoes them differently. "My business is Circumference," she wrote a friend, a word that’s also in her poems.

I saw no Way – The Heavens were stitched –
I felt the Columns close –
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres –
I touched the Universe –
And back it slid – and I alone
A speck opon a Ball –
Went out opon Circumference –
Beyond the Dip of Bell –

This mighty poem will reward your time if you give it, but for now, what is this Circumference? An outer border past the Christian god, past the stations life to death that we mark by ringing bells-and I think she also points to earth’s and life’s recurrent arcs, out at which she flies the arrows her imagination makes, to reach them or even pierce past.

Such fierce ambition mirrors salmon. They swim planetary circumferences. They are given their arcs and with each life etch them new. Ceaselessly, they batter at their limits, and sometimes break through. They go out, return, go out, and point beyond. And like Dickinson’s words to her, their waters are too close to cleave from themselves.

When I learned geometry, at night when bells or teachers could not interrupt obsession, I set the fixed foot of my compass on white paper, pulled the pencil leg out a half inch, drew the circle, made more turns to build the line. Then out again to circle the circle, and then again, as far as compass allowed, where the circle left the paper for my imagination. I kept the fixed foot set, so it was sure to bring me back.   Dickinson, starting perhaps in her twenties, dared pull hers out, and go on untethered. Or rather somehow between fixed and untethered, as salmon do.

She goes out upon far circumferences, and returns with poems, each making new her pathfinder way. Like salmon’s, her arcs are lasting, and no more than in salmon can her compulsion, genius and intrepidity be untangled.