Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Earlier this week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival we watched a new film, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”  The film, adapted from the 2007 novel of the same name by Paul Torday, tells the story of  feckless British fisheries expert  Dr. Andrew Jones [played by Ewan McGregor], who is approached by consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot [played by Emily Blunt] to help realize Yemeni Sheik Muhammed’s audacious but seemingly impossible vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert highlands of his home country.

I really liked the movie, and highly recommend that you see it when it is released to the theaters in early March of this year.  It’s a feel good movie with  nice mix of comedy, drama, and romance, along with just the right dose of political manipulation and intrigue, helped along by strong performances by an attractive and accomplished cast of actors and another fine directorial job by Lasse Hallstrom.  But this isn’t intended to be a movie review.  It’s more of a sermon, albeit a very short one,  about swimming upstream, audacity, impossible dreams, and the importance of faith in making dreams become reality.

If you are at all familiar with salmon, you know that salmon typically are born upstream in fresh water rivers or streams, then migrate downstream to the ocean, where they live and grow for a few years, returning as adult fish the exact spot where they were born to spawn and re-start the cycle for succeeding generations of fish. Studies have shown that the fish rely on olfactory memory to guide them to their hereditary spawning grounds.  They literally follow their noses. Their return journey from the ocean to their spawning grounds is accomplished against seemingly impossible odds, swimming many miles against the flow of the river’s current, and often faced with the challenge of literally leaping out of the water to climb not just upstream, but uphill, to reach their goal.

Sheikh Muhammed’s vision to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen seems at first to be so far-fetched that it is laughable.  When you conjure images of Yemeni landscapes, green hillsides and flowing streams are nowhere to be seen.  But, below the surface lie aquifers which, if supported by proper hydrological controls [dams, sluices, etc.] are capable of supplying sufficient water to fill the usually dry wadis, and, theoretically at least, provide an acceptable habitat for salmon.

But the Sheik’s bold vision, even when shown to be theoretically possible , was not sufficient to propel the project forward.  The project was never going to be easy, despite being backed by the Sheik’s huge financial commitment;  a lot of hard work would be needed.  I’m reminded of a wonderful line from the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own,” when Dottie Hinson [played by Geena Davis] tells Jimmy Duggan [played by Tom Hanks], “It just got too hard,” and Jimmy replies

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great. “

Somehow, though, audacious vision and hard work don’t always deliver the goods. In many cases, as in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, the necessary additional ingredient is faith. The Sheikh believed it was possible, and he insisted that all of the key players on the project were not simply going along with the idea because he supported it with lots of money; they had to believe they could make it happen, and be committed to making it a success.  Their faith opened their eyes to possibilities that would have been invisible had they worn the blinders of skepticism and had their perspectives been limited by the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Seemingly impossible dreams become possible when a bold vision and hard work are combined with faith and commitment.  Examples are everywhere.  We closed the hole in the ozone layer.  We eradicated smallpox from the planet. We sent men to the moon and returned them safely to earth.  But, like the salmon, we have to swim upstream, going against the flow to make it happen.

So dream big, work hard, and have faith.


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  1. Hi Dave! Thank you for this post. I am reading it at a time when the message has a very special meaning for me and suspect I will refer back to it often in the coming months. Hope to catch up more with you soon. Great message and especially like that you quoted “League of Their Own”…one of my personal favorites!

  2. When salmon spawn they secrete hormones that compel them to need cold and pressure on their anterior. While such hormones do not compels us with the same ardor, cognitive dissonance teaches us to love that for which we need to struggle. Hence, monogamy , higher education, physical fitness , a long, long life and golf.

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