December 23, 2020

Common Ground

userBy Gwen Dildine user0 Comment

The new year always feels like an opportunity to start fresh, to make different choices, to try something new. I am going to assume that you too have embarked on a fair amount of soul searching this year trying to answer those questions that always circle in the brain—how can I make a difference; what do I want to do; how do I do a better job of living? I am dizzy. That is how much those questions have circled in my head. This year especially those questions sound louder than in years past.

Learning From Salmon

To turn down the noise, I unplugged, escaping to my stack of books on my nightstand instead of scrolling thoughtlessly through various feeds on my phone. A dear friend, who never fails to recommend the perfect book, came across Stronghold by Tucker Malarkey a few months ago. We both seem to be on a salmon kick this year, including actually reading the book Salmon by Mark Kurlansky. An obsession with salmon seems appropriate, a resilient species, persistent and adaptive and trying to survive in a world with seemingly endless obstacles. Sound familiar?

I took particular interest in Stronghold. Just over ten years ago, I was a grant writing intern at the Wild Salmon Center. Stronghold is a beautifully written story about the Wild Salmon Center’s executive director, Guido Rahr, and his quest to save the last, best wild salmon habitats across the Pacific Rim. Reading about all the distant places and ambitious programs I was writing about as a care-free twenty something brought into perspective the power of time.

The tale is inspiring.

Finding Common Ground

As an adult (on paper) approaching forty, it was exactly what I needed to read because, like salmon, our life cycle is not a perfect circle. To achieve anything, it inevitably involves ebbs and flows, fights against strong currents that seem unbreachable, and climbs up ladders past the most formidable obstacles. Yet we still try. And we often must try for a very long time. Success is not guaranteed.

To me the story highlights the cycle of meaningful change. For a handful of things to go right, so much goes wrong. For the precious yesses, there are countless noes. So many people from wildly different backgrounds motivated by vastly different agendas must work together. The fearless champions leading the cause must stick with it and change course and compromise. And just when you think the work is done, it starts all over.

Late one night while trying to read as many pages before my eyelids involuntarily shut, it occurred to me that the common language in this movement, trying to save the wild salmon of the Pacific, is recreation. Everyone in the story understood flyfishing. To some it is about conquest, to others it is spiritual, and everyone else falls somewhere in between. Despite the motive, the goal remained the same: protect the strongholds.

Let's Talk Recreation

I was heartened by that realization. There are a handful of lucky souls who ever see our last wild places. As David Attenborough, author of A Life on Our Planet, which is another magnificent read, once said, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

While I’m not advocating that we all go invade these wild places, there are plenty of opportunities all around us to make deeper connections with nature for any number of reasons: fitness, education, mental health, spiritual, or just plain old fun. Only then can we begin to relate to the last remaining strongholds and their significance. Only then do we have a chance to make a different choice.

Staring at perhaps the last truly intact watershed on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia or setting out into the Blues for the first time, we can find common ground.

If at first you don't succeed...

A decade later, the Wild Salmon Center is still advocating for strongholds, as they have for almost three decades. If this year hasn’t already made it abundantly clear that we are all in this together, think about pollinators and food, forests and clean air, the water cycle. “Our world is filled with what seem like miracles. Butterflies that migrate for a thousand miles and use the sun’s position and time of day to navigate. Prairie dogs that have language. Birds that use tools. Sunsets, mirages, and rainbows. Processes that lift mountains and processes that carve canyons. The green flash. Lightning. Salmon,” (Steve Casimiro, Adventure Magazine, Issue 19).

We can find common ground. Maybe recreation has a bigger role to play. Maybe it’s the language we adopt to start writing a more sustainable future, a more mindful future. The miles on the trail, around every river bend, the knee-deep powder under clear blue skies proves one indisputable fact: it is imperative that we keep trying.