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December 2007

The Source of All Things

Recently released as a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER in December 2007. This is the full-text of that article.

Some people believe the truth will set you free. I think that’s too easy. When my dad made his confession at The Temple, a weight lifted, but only long enough for me to take a deep breath.

After 20 years of second guessing my own memory, feeling ashamed of my sexuality, and aching for the confirmation that others have always denied, I finally had proof. But the victory wasn’t entirely sweet. My dad’s confession also horrified me. I’d always hated that he put his twisted desire before a small girl’s suffering. Now that I had learned how often it had happened—50 nights lost, never to be regained—a new sadness gripped me. And yet, things had changed for the better at The Temple. By confessing, my dad has given me something back—power, the anticipation of a fuller future, maybe even my life. And finally, after all of these years in the wilderness, I’m might find the strength to truly forgive him.

In the dry, wild heart of southern Idaho, past Russian John hot spring and the ranger station on Highway 75, there is a small wooden sign, barely visible from the overlook on Galena Pass. Through a camera lens you might not even notice it, dwarfed as it is by the Sawtooth Mountains, which spread out before you and fall away somewhere in Utah. But if you know where to look, you’ll find the sign, and below it, a tiny spring buried in overgrown grass. These are the headwaters of the River of No Return, a creek that seeps out of the earth, gathers volume and speed, and becomes so fierce 100 miles from here that it cuts a trench in the earth 1,000 feet deep.

People say the river was named this because the current is so strong it’s impossible to travel upstream. But when I was a little girl, I stood on the banks watching sockeye struggling toward their ancient spawning grounds at Redfish Lake. Nine hundred miles from their starting point in the Pacific, they arrived redder than overripe tomatoes, their flesh already breaking apart.

In the early 1970s, thousands of fish returned here to lay their eggs and die. Then we put in dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. By 1975, eight concrete barriers stood between the Pacific Ocean and Redfish Lake, and by 1995, the sockeye population had dwindled to none.
Many people took this as a sign: that the world had become too corrupt for something so pure as native salmon to exist. I might have believed that, too, until last summer, when four Snake River sockeye made it home.

Tracy Ross recently joined BACKPACKER as senior editor.

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