You are the last: wild humans.

You share a kinship with the last remaining wild salmon seeking life in a few rivers in Downeast Maine. The salmon you see on your dinner plate are farmed salmon, their genetic structure altered, their lives played out in pens, the long chain of characteristics that marked them as salmon through the countless eons, now fading.

Their beautiful and relentless run to the sea and epic return home to their spawning ground no longer a definer of what they are.

Oh, yes, I suppose we can still call them salmon. They still look like salmon: maybe they taste like salmon. But these are not wild salmon.

The wild ones are living and dying in the cold Atlantic, fighting their way home as they have done for 450 million years, past their natural predators: shark, whale and tuna; past their unnatural predators: the huge international factory trawlers; past the thin line of sport fisherman stalking the shores of their native rivers; past the pollution that corrodes their bodies; past their waning lifetimes; past the rolling Atlantic; and finally upstream past the remaining dams and past the outward flow of the river itself, their mother pushing a current against them as one last challenge to fulfillment of their destiny.

These truly are the last wild ones, still fighting, still remembering, still carrying deep within their bodies what it really means to be salmon — the exquisite, unique mix of nature and nurture — a genetic legacy played out against the wild backdrop of river, estuary, ocean and predator.

Always subject to changing — but on nature’s terms, on the terms of the creation — or the Creator and at nature’s scale. These changes, occurring in harmony and juxtaposition with nature, assures they are still salmon — a creature always tightly woven in the web of life, a creature still salmon and thus a creature never alone.

Salmon, earth, sky, water, river, wave, insect, bird, ocean, shark, current, wind, tree, time, life, change, salmon.

It returns along the circle, it is tightly woven in the circle, it is part of the circle. It returns home again and again. It is never alone, wherever it wanders, for it is always part of the circle.

Independent, Defined, Free, Connected.

The singular mystery of life played out before us in the form of a fish, but we fail to see. We think what grows in the pen is a salmon. We think that whatever walks the earth on two legs is a human. But the yearning that rises from deep in our belly tells us something different.

Some primal instinct, perhaps akin to the one that drives the salmon riverward from the sea, tells us there is something more — we must be something more.

The mind screams we are crazy and throws up a thousand distractions. But the heart, the lovely and lonely heart, still shines through and the longing remains.

The last wild humans must pay attention to this message, for this cannot be taught. There is nothing to teach you. But you might teach yourself by following this gnawing instinct, sensing the faint trail homeward, as the salmon does from the sea.

Robert T. Perschel lives in Chilmark. He is the executive director at the New England Forestry Foundation. This poem was first read at the Eastern Old Growth Conference in late September 2023 in Moultonborough, N.H.