Hatful of Hollow
The Underbelly of a Fine Town
By Joe Cusick
Like an ode to Salmon’s blue collar history, a loud WWII bomb siren goes off every day at noon, except Sundays. Before the town’s tourism industry got going, Salmon was primarily composed of cobalt miners and ranchers. The siren, originally a signal for workers to take their lunch breaks, became an anxious reminder for me that I’d overslept after closing and mopping the bar the night before.
My friend Jake, who had been managing the bar for the greater part of a year, set me up working there last summer and sharing a house with him next to the river. On the night of the solstice, we watched in the twilight from our backyard as an osprey swooped, dove, and weaved to catch large golden stoneflies from the sky.
Our lawn and house crawled with these insects, a staple food for the trout and birds living in this ecosystem. My father once told me that the act of swallowing a stonefly will bring a successful fishing season and help to produce a healthy river. So I did it, washing down the insect with warm, flat beer. In truth, I did it mostly to shock Jake.
Overall, my experience of Salmon that summer was very positive. I know that my impressions of the town were influenced by my work at the bar and interactions I normally would never have. But Salmon held a vibrant sense of community and was full of good people and good things. Everyone seemed to be in touch with each other’s day-to-day lives. The folks who frequented the bar were simply trying to cope, like us all, although I think heavy drinking by some of them was a poor choice.
My primary pastime, the way I coped during the summer, was fly fishing. Eastern Idaho is a tundra in the winter and a desert in the summer. Rattlesnakes hiss around prickly pear cacti while golden eagles prey on rodents they spot from high above the prairie. The Salmon and Lemhi Rivers converge here, creating an oasis in this rugged country.
Along the banks of the Salmon lies a jungle full of insects and wildlife. Often, I would catch myself focusing less on my fly and the feeding fish than on the hypnotic flow of the river around my legs. Here I could remind myself that we all are, at our core, animals: organic material trying to formulate and organize our world.
One of the memorable patrons at the bar was a man I’ll call Mark. He usually said he was doing well, he was happy, and once he mentioned he had met a beautiful woman while in the mountains near Goldbug Hot Springs. He added that unfortunately he was “getting too old for anything like that.”