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It's time to take the river back.

Sometimes I wonder why I got involved with a group seeking to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River, a thousand and a half miles from my home on the prairies of Minnesota. Then I recall I grew up fishing the Wisconsin River, sitting on a bridge over its headwaters in northern Wisconsin. And I restore part of my soul weekly when I cross the St. Croix to see my partner.

I like rivers and I must admit I’m not a fan of a lot of change, although I’m on Facebook and using a cell phone. But I find comfort in thinking of how some things used to be, how they felt, what they offered and what they demanded (of me). When it comes to the Snake River, I’ve got company from Trout Unlimited (TU).

In a recent story published in its magazine, TU offers a poignant recollection:

“In 2002, two sons of Idaho, brothers in their 80s, penned a book about their youth in wild Idaho, tales of campfire summers and canvas stretched against the mountain rain, lanterns hissing the cool night back, Model A Fords grinding up one-lane gravel, high-country passes and down serpentine canyons carved by the endless thrash of water against stone. And tales of fish. Fish galore. The cover of River Runts features the authors, Ted and Bill Merrill, holding up two massive Chinook, young lads with smiles earned by outdoor living and the catch.

“The book gives a glimpse of one family’s Idaho before the Lower Snake Dams took that kind of life away.”

I watched the guy who bought the old farm house my wife and I lived in for 20 years – along the shore of a pure and pretty little lake – take away the life it represented. He made the old barn into a man cave, with a big-screen TV and an inlaid bar. He tore down the two-story frame house and replaced with a McMansion. He tore up the prairie ground cover, and installed rolls of sod over an irrigation system. He cuts down the pine trees and carried away the old rocks. He brought in new rocks, laid in neat rows. Then he built a pool and a house to cover it.

Apparently the lake wasn’t good enough for his kids to swim in, but it was good enough for the family to float over; he built a huge, new dock and parked a pontoon boat alongside. None of that is illegal and it doesn’t make the guy a bad dude. But it does bring to mind an admonition from the Beatles:

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: Let It Be.” Yep, couldn’t we have just let a few things be: a free-flowing river, an annual run of native Chinook, a way of life for river elders?

If the Beatles will forgive me: “When the salmon disappear and Orcas die, sweet science comes to me and provides the fact: It’s Time to Take It Back.

David Nimmer

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