by Kim Trotter
Before the South Fork of the Snake River was a boating superhighway, it was my dad’s getaway spot. On summer weekends, my mom would load the Lavro with Dutch ovens, sleeping bags, ammo cans and fly boxes, hook the boat trailer up to our Carolina blue Suburban, and be ready to leave when my dad returned home from work. If it wasn’t the South Fork, we were off to the Henry’s Fork, the Big Horn, or to test out the Lavro’s maneuverability in big water on the Alpine section of the Snake near Jackson, Wyoming or our hallowed ground, the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
My parents were 38 in this picture – younger than I am now. They had everything they needed – good company, a sturdy drift boat, fly rods, and a bottle of wine. But most of all, they had peace and quiet. An overachieving family with demanding schedules, there was a communal sigh of relief, a physical and emotional release, when we were on the river. My brother practiced tricks in his kayak and my sister performed gymnastics moves on logs as if they were balance beams. My favorite spot on our river trips, however, was in the bow of the boat reading a book or watching my dad fish. I fell in love with the sound of oars quietly dipping in the water, bubbles and sediment fizzing off the bottom of the boat.
Being the youngest child of a busy surgeon, I didn’t get much time alone with my father when I was young. But our time together on the river was sacred to me. I was about 12 when he took me—and only me—on an overnight float on the Canyon reach of the South Fork Snake. On the drive, there were moments of awkwardness, an adolescent girl who didn’t know how to talk casually with her own father. But when we were on the river there was no need for small talk. We cooked T-bone steaks under the cottonwoods and watched a bull moose wade in the river nearby. When the sun went down, I sat close to my dad by the campfire and learned the names of constellations in the dark sky above. We listened to our dog Gunner whimper all night only to find that the moose had bedded down immediately next to our tent.
It was on that trip when my dad taught me to row. I am my father’s daughter, and I was as impatient of a student as he was a teacher. I was new to fly-fishing, and I spent more time trying to untangle my line than watching for the nascent rise. Tired and defeated, I put down my rod and curled up in the bow of the boat.
Frustrated that our time together had soured and irritated that his limited time off was wasted, he grumbled, “Well, dammit, if you aren’t going to fish, you are going to learn to row.”
Reluctantly, I traded seats with him and grabbed the heavy fiberglass oars. With his line out, he taught me to brace my legs against the front seats to leverage more power to move the big boat, feel the boat swivel with the slightest pressure on the oars, and angle the boat to the banks for the perfect cast from the bow. Within an hour, I was hooked on rowing, and he had hooked his all-time biggest brown trout. We were once again content as we navigated our newly discovered mutualistic relationship.
I understood early on that time with my family on the river was precious, but little did I know that my time on the water was also nourishing roots below the surface. I credit my time in the Lavro to helping me to become a collegiate rower and coach on both the east and west coasts, but it took years to appreciate that Idaho’s rivers flowed through my veins. I would leave for college, then graduate school, but I would always find myself returning to the Henry’s Fork, the South Fork, and the Teton River, working through land and water conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy, the Henry’s Fork Foundation, the Teton Regional Land Trust, and now Trout Unlimited, to protect and restore the rivers that I call home.
Almost three decades later, I’m lucky enough to own the family Lavro. I still cherish the rare day I get with my dad on the water, but also now have the pleasure of sharing this legacy—the rivers and our experiences with—my children. No matter how chaotic life gets, I have everything I need on the river: good company, a sturdy drift boat, fly rods, and a bottle of wine.
But most of all, I get a little peace and quiet.
Since 2005, Kim Goodman Trotter has served as director of TU’s Idaho Water Project. She recently left TU to take a position with the Community Foundation of Teton Valley. She lives in Driggs, Idaho.