Image 1: Photograph by Laurie Tumer, Glowing Evidence, Salmon. Courtesy of Photo Eye Gallery.
Image 1: Photograph by Laurie Tumer, Glowing Evidence, Salmon. Courtesy of Photo Eye Gallery.

There were salmon here once, in Montana, before a deep change occurred. There is still the alchemy of leaping, gleaming wild trout in Montana, but I believe there used to be salmon—oceangoing salmon. It’s a little-known fact, yet one that anyone who’s interested in exploring the history of the garden could discover.

There are texts that predate ours.

In certain forests, far up in the mountains, where the little creeks rush wild as they emerge from their dramatic headwaters, there are a few boulders that bear the etchings of the first humans who were here, perhaps back before the ice closed in and collapsed over the rivers in temporary dams. The petroglyphs show men in the river netting enormous fish—salmon—in the midst of wild rivers where salmon were never known to exist. As if back then a secret passage to the sea existed.

You have to know where to look, to find those few boulders, or be lucky. You might stumble upon one once in a great while, lost in the woods. There aren’t many, and for the most part, lichens have swarmed over them, obscuring the art. Only the occasional wildfire that burns all the way to water’s edge—burning, against all odds, through the wet cedar and aspen and birch along the river— scours the lichens briefly, making it look, in that moment, as if the rocks themselves are burning, though the window for viewing such smoking, gleaming, newly-bald texts is always very narrow; in half a hundred years the texts will be speckled with lichens again, the story hidden once more, until the next burning.

Image 2: Photograph by Trevor Snapp, www.trevorsnapp.com
Image 2: Photograph by Trevor Snapp, www.trevorsnapp.com

There are still pockets of these little-known ghost salmon, here and there, still alive, and crafted to a different species—the inland redband trout—hidden in Montana. They are living ghosts from a time when all rivers were wild. Cut off from the ocean, the magnificent once-upon-a-time seagoing salmon became landlocked. They adapted, though in so doing, they had to give up much that was great and even mythic, in order to simply survive. Trapped in the high lakes, as they waited for the ice dams to melt, they were forced to become something new, something smaller.

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