TBT: Lost River

Lost River, a limited edition print with an essay by renowned author and conservationist David James Duncan, was released in 2005 by Save Our Wild Salmon. The image was created by photographer Frederic Ohringer and the project was underwritten by Patagonia.

The words are as poignant today as they were 12 years ago.

I dreamed the people who fished the river never knew want, seldom knew confusion, & with the salmon’s self-sacrifice to guide us we could always find love. I dreamed I obeyed the river so gratefully the name of every rapid, fall & riffle engraved itself on my tongue, & the salmon came back to us again & again, & I never once doubted they would bless my family’s table forever.

I dreamed Big & Little Dalles & Methow & Priest Rapids & Lodgepole & Entiat Rapids. I dreamed Coulee Bend & Kettle Falls & beautiful Celilo. I dreamed Chalwash Chilni & Picture Rocks Bay & Spanish Castle & Victoria & Beacon Rocks. I dreamed Black Canyon & Deschutes & Klickitat Canyons & Rocky Reach & Ribbon Cliff. I dreamed I fished by the peach groves of the place called Penawawa, drunk on the river’s sweetness within the fruit.

I dreamed I fell asleep to the sound of water, & when I woke a cloud had enveloped the minds of the ruling pharaohs, & they had attacked the river as if its song & flow were curses. I dreamed 227 dams clogged the river & all that I knew was submerged.

I dreamed the salmon young lost strength & direction in the slackwaters, couldn’t reach the sea, & when they no longer brought the ocean back to us we grew as lost as they. I dreamed my people stood shoulder to shoulder in casinos the way we’d once stood by the river, our fists full of quarters, our minds full of broken hope & smoke.

I dreamed I asked why the salmon had to die & the pharaohs told me, “So wheat can ride the slackwater in barges.” I dreamed I tried to reason, telling them of wheat shipped by railroad, & they laughed & marched off to conduct business hard to distinguish from war.

I dreamed I led the last salmon people out into the wheat fields, & in a golden light we launched our dories, & we went fishing in the stubble. I dreamed I cast the Spey of a Nez Perce named Levi, & the beauty of hidden salmon gleamed in field & sky, & our fishing became prayer. But still the pharaohs ruled the water. I dreamed the one who reads even lost rivers then said, “It is finished,” & the last salmon floated by us as a cloud above us.

I dream I am an old man, & Levi & the farmer whose fields we sailed sit with me at Penawawa beside a river finally freed. I dream we hold rods in one hand, sweet peaches in the other, & our lines run true as prayer into the shine. But whether the salmon come, whether they bring the lost ocean back to us, my dreams, like the river, refuse to say.

David James Duncan

2 thoughts on “TBT: Lost River

  1. Hey community! I am trying desperately to find a copy of this poster to give to my love, a salmon fisherman and conservationist born in Oregon. Anyone have a lead on a poster or would llike to sell theirs to me? I would be eternally grateful! Thank you so much

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