All the River’s Ways
Its Sunken Songs
By Desiré Aguirre
Only during our ride to McCall did I realize how powerfully my trip down the Main Stem of the Salmon River had impacted me. The driver of our vintage yellow school bus wound down the mountain with an expertise born from years of trial and error. At one point, another vehicle backed up to allow us room to pass.
As we traversed around switchbacks and over dirt roads that had seen better days, I reflected that, sure, I needed a hot shower and yearned for my smart phone—but as gas stations, houses, and cars began to dot the landscape, I just wanted to go back to the river, where life was simpler and I was forced to personally connect with other people and nature.
Rafting down a river with Class IV rapids was never on my bucket list. But when Patrice Webb, a phenomenal singer/songwriter, asked me to join her and her husband on a guided tour down the Main Salmon, I decided to say yes to adventure. Of course, the fact that Patrice would be packing a guitar and advised me to do the same was as good as whipped cream on an iced latte.
The Main Salmon River cuts through the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area, winding down a canyon steeper than the Grand. The undammed Salmon River has been left in a largely natural state. It has historic Native American pictographs, homesteads, exciting rapids, and sandy beaches perfect for camping.
I’m not sure which aspect of the trip affected me most. For sure, there was the regal beauty of the mountains that towered above us like giants and made me feel like a second in time, an ant marching in circles, a drop of sunlight. Or maybe I was mostly impressed by the array of trees, some of them maimed by lightning and/or clinging to the tops of lofty cliffs, which reminded me of the remarkable tenacity of life.
Perhaps it was the constant flow of the pristine water that cut through the rocks like a razor, slipping, licking, sliding, literally moving mountains, and the heady rapids that our rafts skipped across, dipping, turning, floating us downriver, or how at night the whispers, the murmur of the river, like a heartbeat, like a sunken song, lulled me to sleep.