salmon swim up the river.
Swimming up river means you are going against the current or natural flow of the river. Swimming up river is more difficult than swimming down river because you are working against the water’s force. If you swim down river you let the current carry you.
Salmon swim upstream to lay their eggs. Salmon are hatched in the river, then they migrate downstream to the estuary, which is at the mouth of the river, where the fresh water blends with the salt water. They mature in the estuary. When it is time for them to lay eggs, called “spawning”, they use something like their sense of smell to guide them back upstream to the place of their hatching to lay their eggs. That is why they swim up river, or upstream.
To “swim up river” is a turn of phrase that is based on the natural characteristic of salmon who swim up river to – you said it – lay their eggs. This is a gruelling journey in which salmon spend a significant amount of their energy to swim against currents – even rapids – to reach their spawning grounds. Once there, they lay their eggs, fertilize them, and die – such is the lifecycle of the salmon. Their bodies decompose and create a nutrient-rich environment in which their offspring hatch. When someone says they’re “swimming up river” or compare something to this, this basically means that they’re pushing against all odds to get where they need to be or do what they need to do. I hope that adequately answers your question.
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