What is it to be free? To be independent? To be brave? A free-flowing river can show us the way. The people who save the free-flowing rivers from dams can show us the way. The salmon that overcome great obstacles to spawn in their home streams can show us the way.
Be free. Be independent. Be brave. The susurrations of whirlpools and cascades are speaking. Listen. The music stirs in the skipping rivulets and the spray over rocks. Immerse. Feel it in your bones. Sing with the canyon wren’s sweet descending call that lingers on the translucent wings of a dragonfly.
Laugh with friends who are proud to be conservationists there on the white sand beaches of the Lower Salmon River. Join forces in our fierce love for this wild world. Find our inner strength in the shockingly cold and achingly refreshing swim in a deep, lucent eddy.
Lower Salmon River memories from last week’s idyllic float remind me of what it is to be truly free of tyranny. For five days we mingled bodies and souls with one of the largest undammed rivers in the continental U.S. that races unfettered for 425 miles from Galena Summit in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains to the confluence with the Snake River in Hells Canyon –another magnificent stretch of wild river saved by courageous people who spoke up and changed the world.
Today I savor and celebrate the freedom of the Lower Salmon River…
Kingfishers fly in front of us in ones, twos and even trios. Their blue wings flash moons across the sky, where the crescent moon etches a single letter- C for courage. Great blue herons lumber by on prehistoric wings. Spotted sandpipers fly from the river’s edge, calling their urgent weeeep..weeep message that feels both plaintive and cheerful, the way it is to live in the yin and yang of this world so achingly beautiful you could cry.
Swallowtail butterflies cluster upon wet sands sipping minerals. Bumblebees bearing pollen on their legs mark their own place on the sand. These are the pollinators of the flowers that changed our world. The days of butterflies and bees may be ephemeral, yet their moments upon this planet are precious acts of faith.
What would this world be without butterflies and bees? Without the iridescent black beetles crawling upon sparkling mica of white sands on water’s edge? Without the hatching mayflies, salmon flies, and caddisflies? Without the whirring predatory dragonflies taking our breath away?
Beneath the waters, the fish are idling, swimming, pooling, schooling, resting, and sometimes cleaving the surface. Some are the wildest of all–the ancient sturgeon, the chinook salmon and the steelhead. Their future is precarious. Their presence a sign of hope and a message to us all. Our work is not done. The dams on the Lower Snake River? They must come out. The fish speak. The Nez Perce, the Umatilla, and all the tribes who long have revered and honored the fish speak. Listen. Listen to the river’s voices. Have courage. Join with those who have come before. It’s our turn.
Night falls. We all sleep under the stars, lulled by the river the enters our dreams until our dreams become the river and the river becomes us and there is no us and them. Only one great symphony of which our part is small, yet we must play our hearts out. What choice do we have?
Thank you great river for teaching me the meaning of freedom, for giving me courage, and for holding me even briefly in your embrace.
Happy Independence Day.