In death we remember to value life

Shot almost exactly a year ago at Shoshone Falls on the Snake River in southern Idaho, this photo was named one of two runners up in a recent photo contest co-sponsored by Save Our Wild Salmon and Mountain Khakis. (photo by Greg Stahl)

By Greg Stahl, IRU

This photograph is more than a pretty place. Recently named runner up in a photo contestsponsored by Save Our Wild Salmon and Mountain Khakis, it was shot at the end of a taxing weekend last May, a weekend during which I drove to Crested Butte, Colorado, to help scatter one of my closest friend’s ashes in a river. An avid river runner, fly-angler and conservation-minded man, his untimely death can hopefully serve as a reminder now that life’s trials are lessons we can choose to embrace or ignore.

The Snake River embodies this idea of learning from the events of our lives and finding new beginnings in tragedy. For nearly 20 years, the federal government has been failing to draft a scientifically- and legally-sound recovery plan for endangered wild salmon and steelhead that migrate between Idaho and the Pacific Ocean through the heavily-dammed lower Snake River corridor in eastern Washington state. For 20 years, while working primarily to protect the lower Snake River’s unnecessary dams, the government has been ebbing ever closer toward impending tragedy: extinction of these keystone species that return to central Idaho via the lower Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers.

Last week, the Obama administration failed to take the issue seriously once again. Last week, the Obama administration released a revised recovery plan that does too much to protect special interests and too little to recover species that contribute to the economic, biological and spiritual health of the northern Rocky Mountains.

In my friend’s death last year, I was reminded of the value of life, not only the lives of  my family, friends and myself but of the entire web of vitality of which we are all a part and on which we all depend. I was asked when he died to perform a song and give a eulogy at his memorial service, and after some consideration my core message became simple:

Love, give, forgive, settle differences and live; love life.

It’s simple to say and more difficult to do, but these words apply to far more than our interpersonal relationships. They have bearing on the ways we work in our communities and function at work, and they apply to the ways we interact with the natural world. We take from the Earth incessantly, but we rarely give back. We are obligated to give back.

We are, after all, of the Earth, and all of us will return to it. Like the salmon that mirror the water cycle–born in the mountains and tumbling to the ocean, only to return to spawn and die in the exact locations of their birth–the circle of life cannot be escaped.

Death is inevitable; extinction is forever.

And in these inescapable facts, we are reminded to value life.


  • Click here to view the photo contest winner and other runner-up.
  • Click here to read IRU’s press release on the Obama administration’s recently-released salmon plan.