Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.
Most of the folks who live in or around the city of Spokane are aware of a river running through town. They know it flows from the east. A good percentage of these same folks even know that it flows out of a lake as it begins it's westward run, although they couldn't tell you the name of that lake. That percentage continues to decline when it comes to knowing where all of this water running through our fair Lilac City goes. Then, slash that number in half or better and you have a decent approximation of the number of people who have ever actually seen it, omitting of course those who visit, or frequent our downtown Riverfront Park and see the river, penned, aesthetically structured, civil, calm, and even, on good days, litter-free.
To be sure, there are a plethora of places in the region wherein one may enjoy a more intimate connection with the river. Among those who care about such things, these areas are well known. They range from carefully constructed viewpoints along some of our 'scenic' drives, to direct access to the water both up and downstream of the 'metro' area. When ESPN comes to town, most often to broadcast Gonzaga University Bulldog basketball games, a gratuitous live shot of Spokane Falls nearly always accompanies the network breaks. And, as our city fathers would have it, it is beautiful. They mandate that lots of water, billowing in its oxygenated, voluminous whiteness, be flowing for those shots. I had the misfortune one sunny afternoon several winters ago to be fishing when they 'opened the gates' for a 'Chamber of Commerce' event. I think if I remember correctly it was for a nationally televised ice-skating championship. Whatever it was, the rising waters isolated me on an island for a few hours. It was almost pitch dark and I was mighty chilled by the time I decided I'd seen the flows recede enough to chance a wade back to shore. I was thankful for my headlamp and the extra heat packs I carried.
While there are some folks in town who have visions for the future of the river, there are many more who couldn't give a damn. There are those who use the river for recreation. Included in this group are those who recreate with respect, and many more who choose to use it both as their own playground and garbage can. There are even those who come along once a year and try to pick up all the crap that the latter group leaves behind. They spend all of one day in an all-out, no holds barred campaign to clean up what the masses of repugnant hordes spent a full year distributing. I am amazed at how much garbage is collected, but as I see it, and I am there year after after year, they are fighting a losing battle. I hate to say it, but the ignorance and disrespect far outweighs the noble efforts of this small, but brave band of river lovers. I count myself as one of them though I do not take part in this annual outing. I do my part every time I go fishing there, hauling out a sack full of litter, retrieving one of Joe Albertson's shopping carts, an old bike frame, or even a stolen and discarded computer, from the river. But the task is daunting, because it seems that with every year the repugnant masses grow in number. I see that firsthand, and I begin to worry that it is by some sort of design that this is occurring. I wonder if some our 'visionaries' are talking out of one side of their mouths while laughing out of the other side. By that I mean I have to wonder if my river has been conceded to the hordes, the thinking here that it's a way to kind of 'compartmentalize' their activity to a relatively obscure, uninhabited area bordering the river, out of sight and hopefully 'out of mind' to the rest of our good populace as well as those money-spending visitors. I know the police are reluctant to patrol certain areas of the river even though they are well aware of the higher incidences of crime having to do with car prowling and vandalism. With that being said, criminal activity is bound to increase in places where there is no presence. I am painfully aware of this, having had my car smashed and pilfered on more than one occasion before I resigned myself to parking in a college parking lot filled with security cameras and patrolled regularly. Makes for some very long hikes, but I'll take it. It's better than fishing with your mind on your vehicle.
I've ranted enough. Nothing's going to change. The repugnant few who are always responsible for screwing things up for everyone else will continue their assault. The river 'keepers' will follow along behind, filling bags full of their droppings. Our city fathers will gather and trade their visions. The city council will ponder this and/or that, and convene panels to study this situation and that. Concerned citizens will write letters and attend meetings. The environmentalists and conservationists will fret about the phosphate levels and the destruction of fish habitat. The state of Idaho will continue to stall on any kind of positive action or legislation that might signal even the slightest inclination to acknowledge their participation in the eventual demise of fishing as we know it on the Spokane River. But, nothing will change. It never does.
What took me however long to type out above goes through my mind in a nanosecond nearly every time I return to my river. And it's not easy to live with. I admit it. I am not sure how long my river can fight the abuse and the lack of positive action.
But then I think of how lucky I have been. How blessed. How resourceful. How persistent. When I first began exploring the river how ever many years ago, how could I have possibly understood the level of knowledge or the joy I would derive from this place. This river taught me how to fish. This river taught me how to think. This river taught me so much more than just about fishing. It was the best therapy in the world through countless turning points in my life. It was my sanctuary. Better than that, it is my world. All things revolve around my ability to get here, to be here, to feel the strength of its flows cradling me. To puzzle, to outwit, to succumb. To be reborn, again and again.
And then, as my fly line arcs again in the current, it occurs to me that, given half a chance, the river will survive. That these waters will hold and grow trout as long as I am able to be here to stand erect in its waters and cast for them. And it will be good. It is always good. It is in the nature of things to be good. And it is always, eternally, only for us who know this to be true.