The Green Flash

Trying to Sight Wild Chinook Salmon

By Susanna Danner

For the past seven years, I’ve been writing conservation agreements for salmon in the Lemhi River, working from my faraway desk here in Idaho’s capital city. I’ve fallen in love with the upper Salmon River watershed.

I’ve backpacked in the Lemhi Mountains, fished the Lemhi River, and even visited Sacajawea’s birthplace. But being in the Lemhi at the moment when Chinook salmon return home is like seeing the famous “green flash” atmospheric phenomenon over the ocean. The timing, location, and conditions have to be just right. I’ve squinted at ocean sunsets until my retinas feel like moth-eaten blankets, but I’ve only seen the green flash twice.

Seeing wild Chinook salmon in Idaho is like that, because to me they’re creatures out of myth, as elusive as sea serpents. In the seven years I’ve worked for the Nature Conservancy, I’ve never seen one. I read the data, so I believe in them, and I work on their conservation as an act of hope. It’s worth it even if I never see the living result of my efforts.

Late last August I had a meeting near the town of Salmon. On the way home, I asked my colleagues if we could detour to a nearby cattle ranch where our organization holds a conservation easement. We telephoned the rancher for permission to visit his ranch to look for spawning Chinook. He gave us the OK, and we bumped down his dirt road to the Lemhi. I got out of the truck and heard splashes in the river. Big splashes. My eyes filled with tears.

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