National Geographic : 2011 Nov
• in atable kayaks, because nothing makes you feel more 11 than bouncing down a river in an oversize inner tube. He'd never been in white water before, and he soon discovered that pad- dling the little kayaks, called duckies, was hard work. We struggled with headwinds, grounded on rocks, and paddled hard to keep up with the ra s. Yet tired as we were, Sam came o the river almost skipping. at night the Milky Way choked the sky, and we couldn't nd the Big Dipper in the twinkling throng. Sam turned in early, so I went down to the water to listen to the river's simple sym- phony. Something splashed at my feet, and when I flicked on my headlamp, I beheld a tiny sh darting around the shallows: a native chinook salmon, o spring of the big shadows we'd seen lurking in the deeper pools. Chinook fed the Sheep Eaters for millennia. Once tens of thousands of them came to spawn annually in the Middle Fork; now, eight major dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers have exacted a toll on the sh in their 900-mile journey to the sea---one of the greatest migrations in nature. designation is no guarantee that a river will remain truly wild. In fact, several of the nation's most cher- ished water ways have landed on the annual Most Endangered Rivers list produced by the advocacy group American Rivers. ey include southern Oregon's Chetco, where gold miners plan to suction-dredge some of the best salmon spawning grounds in the state. Maine's legend- ary Allagash, the river that taught Henry David oreau the meaning of wilderness, has long been mired in controversy over bridges and additional access points in its protected corridor. And former Vice President Walter Mondale, a co-sponsor of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, says of the treasured St. Croix, which runs by his Minnesota summer home: "If this river is ever destroyed, it'll die of nicks and cuts. A bridge here, a power line there. ese threats are everywhere," he adds, "and they have to be fought everywhere. Just go to one of the unpro- tected rivers in the Northeast or South and see how polluted they are." The stream of my youth, North Carolina's aptly named Tar, is one such river, though my friends and I were too young to know the di erence then. We caught bass and bluegills from beneath the ra s of old soda and bleach bottles that oated at each logjam. We shot the ducks that exploded from the quiet bends where discarded washing machines and tires lay. We waded when the water dropped to knee-deep in summer and carried a faint whi of the sew- age treatment plant upstream. ough I caught countless sh from the Tar's waters, I released them to their turbid home. My parents drew the line at eating them. Such threats seemed many miles and moons from the clear, clean water of central Idaho. e next day the sun rose white-hot above the ridge- line, turning the Middle Fork into an undulat- ing strand of emeralds. A herd of bighorn sheep joined us for breakfast. Bald and golden eagles glared at us from their perches as American dip- pers itted from rock to rock. e guides lled ITWASA LIVING PAGE FROM AMERICA'S PAST, WHEN EVERY RIVER WAS CLEAN, POTABLE, AND FULL OF LIFE.