first published a long time ago, in Covid-19 years — September 5, 2005
“You will often meet with characters in nature so extravagant that a discreet poet would not venture to set them upon a stage.”
— Lord Chesterfield
“My strength is from the fish; my blood is from the fish, from the roots and berries. The fish and game are the essence of my life. I was not brought from a foreign country and did not come here. I was put here by the creator.”
— Chief Meninock
Zen and the Art of a Water Ethic
The Buddhist nature, as argued by Chinese philosopher Chan-jan, verifies that even inanimate things possess the essence of being, the spiritual core that connects us all to the universe, a creator. The Buddha spirit is in the stone, the branch, the waterfall. Chan-jan writes, “The man who is of all-round perfection knows from beginning to end that no objects exist part from Mind. Who then is ‘animate’ and who ‘inanimate?’ Within the Assembly of the Lotus, all are present without division.” This tenant is the core of all tribal wisdom for the peoples of the Americas; and for communities throughout the west, including the Northwest, planning strategies have to embrace an old ethic — essentially a new application of old wisdom — if we are to gestate a visionary strategy in our land ethic. Sin-Wit-Kit is from the Yakima meaning, “all life on earth.” These are simple words yet all encompassing. If we are to reestablish that connection to the land that John Wesley Powell, Wallace Stegner, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry and countless others have written about as they have established the syncopation of nature — land, animals, plants, air, water and people — with cultural harmony and success, then communities in the west, both urban and rural, must go beyond the economic development packages, growth management plans and environmental analyses to build good earth, air and water for people.
We have moved farther and farther away from knowing nature, yet in the same breath we profess closeness to the beauty, the land, and the water that makes the West a split-open geode of varying ecologies, geologies, climates and cultures. Gary Snyder is advocating a new type of pioneer spirit, for humans to “move inside the self as well as reach out in a non-possessive way to the natural world.” Snyder comes from pioneer stock as his paternal grandfather settled in Kitsap, Washington, and his mother’s clan established roots in Texas, Kansas and Colorado. He understands the nature of conquest and how the invaders into Turtle Island continued to fragment their links to the native life, values and way of seeing land:
“As the discriminating self-centered awareness of civilized man has increasingly improved his material survival potential, it has correspondingly moved him farther and farther from a spontaneous feeling of being part of the natural world.”
Gary Snyder’s work in poetry and prose underpins the theme that humanity has to conquer the self and learn to live in harmony with earth and each other; he wants to journey into the self in addition to connecting to the natural world, all seamed to an ethic of non-possessiveness. Bert Almon from Boise State University sums up the ethos of the conqueror, as Patricia Limerick eloquently writes in her book, The Legacy of Conquest, by drawing awareness to the failing of our manifest destiny and harnessing of the wild: “We thought that we had conquered the land, but we discovered that we had defeated ourselves.” Thomas J. Lyon draws a corollary to this by illuminating the idea that the American West is the terminus of Walt Whitman’s Open Road . . . the traveler must “move toward the examined life.”
Awareness is the bedrock of Snyder’s poetry. Seeing into one’s own nature helps us gain the clear perception of the self and the external world. This philosophy must be embraced by the Americans who have moved into the American Western wilderness. What better confluence of wisdom, change and reunification which can help us with strategies for planning in the West than allowing the ancient waters of the land and clans to resurface and define the communities of the 21st century. Will planners be able to re-educate politicians and industrialists and the common citizen to take into account the human ability to experience a “deep sense of communion and communication with nature and with specific non-human beings,” as Snyder writes, by allowing rivers to run free, to run through it all? Can we go beyond the linear analytical and scientific study of nature — a complex, evolving, spiritual and profound circle — in order to re-enter the circle so we can once again sing, dance and greet the salmon, bison and whale?
Can we truly attempt to inculcate the ancient rhythm and earth beats of the free flowing rivers into the pragmatic city and rural planner so he or she might consider the old way and real lay of the land — undammed rivers, creeks and streams — as a dynamic, practical, economic and cultural modus operandi for bringing the West back into harmony with nature, people, spirit? As a poet who sees his language, his song, as the only language to access the shamanistic view “in which all is one and all is many, and the many are all precious,” I believe many out of the 6.5 billion humans living off of the bounty of 57 million square miles of earth will redefine themselves so as to recapture the harmony within and external existence only available through diversity. So we must reeducate so no one goes through the West again without recalling that all land is part of a river basin or watershed. All is shaped by the water that flows over it and through it.
Empire of the Watershed
“To write history without putting any water in it is to leave out a large part of the story. Human experience has not been so dry as that.”
— Donald Worster
A river is so much more than the water coursing toward the sea or lake. A river basin is an orchestrated interconnected shifting of forces: the crumbling, moving banks and beds and the seepage below, the groundwater upon which most communities in the West depend. Meadows, forests, marshes, backwaters are linked to a river’s floodplain. A river is a carrier of hopes, dreams, life and death, as well as sediments, nutritionally rich detritus, and dissolved minerals. A watershed emanates from mountains and hills. Rain and snow drain into rushing streams. Tributaries and groundwaters build the river’s volume. “As they leave the mountains, rivers slow and start to meander and braid, seeking the path of least resistance across widening valleys, whose alluvial floor was laid down by millennia of sediment-laden floods,” Patrick McCully writes in his book, Silenced Rivers. The Oxford English Dictionary puts the definition of a river succinctly: “a copious stream of water flowing in a channel towards the sea … A copious stream of flow of (something) … the boundary between life and death.”
We in the colony of the west have four major “bathtubs”: the Missouri, the Columbia, the Colorado and the Great Basin. The main river in each of the first three basins collects water that falls in its natural boundaries and dumps it into the Atlantic, in the case of the Missouri, and into the Pacific, in the cases of the Columbia and Colorado. With the conquest of the west came the Prior Appropriation doctrine in 1848, and since that day our rivers have been diverted, stripped, dammed, channeled, tunneled and pumped into shadows of their old selves in a water-grabbing scenario that has literally reshaped ecology, environment, culture by exploding populations into areas where the fragility of life — the beauty and the essence of the land — has been pummeled into submission and non-existence.
Features of the Columbia
The Columbia is more than 1,200 miles long, birthed in the Canadian Rockies. The river’s rumbling surge pushes a branch of freshwater more than 400 miles out to sea. These estuary ecosystems are fecund, nurturing one of the more biologically grand portions of the river. The estuarine habitat provides humans with most of the fish catches because these species are tied to this nutrient-rich habitat for part of their life cycles. Snyder puts it simply here in a statement for the Rivers of Words project:
The water cycle includes our springs and wells, our snowpack, our irrigation canals, our car wash, and the spring salmon run. It’s the spring peeper in the pond and the acorn woodpecker chattering in a snag. The watershed is beyond the dichotomies of orderly/disorderly, for its forms are free, but somehow inevitable. The life that comes to flourish within it constitutes the first kind of community.
For the Columbia, where river meets sea, numbers of freshwater and marine fish species thrive in this unique habitat. The sturgeon is an important recreational fish, as well as a stable commercial catch. This web of ecosystems is the feeding and breeding ground for clams, oysters and mussels as well as Dungeness crabs. Over 175 species of birds occupy and intermix with the habitat of the lower Columbia River and the estuary. Blue heron, gull and tern colonies are supported by the river and estuary. Peregrine falcons, hawks, owls, ospreys, and eagles nest and hunt in this diverse habitat. The lower Columbia is also an important area for more than 150,000 birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. Shorebirds use the estuary, and wintering waterfowl in the area of 200,000 birds occupy land and islands in the Columbia area.
Nursery and rearing areas for young salmon and steelhead are found in the Columbia River Basin, producing some of the world’s largest salmon runs — 16 to 18 million annually in the past. Changes in the environment, loss of habitat and continuing degradation of the basin account for the huge decrease in salmon runs — wild stocks of salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout are virtually gone in some areas. Chum salmon stocks have declined to less than 1 percent of original levels. Habitat for sockeye salmon has declined to less than 4 percent of its historic level.
Without sufficient water to ensure the survival of anadromous fish, the mutual interests of both the Indians and non-Indians will be defeated. —-Eugene Greene, Sr.
Our communities need to reappropriate the myths, histories and salvation of river culture and the potentiality of growing economies, recreation, cities that have a balance with the diverse nature of rivers and watersheds. A belief in “river keeping” should inoculate our northwest population of water-grabbing energy consortiums, farmers, manufacturers and urban consumers against unchecked and all-out consumptive growth, and it should be woven into a strong fabric of place ethic, place understanding, as Charles Wilkinson points out:
An ethic of place respects equally the people of a region and the land, animals, vegetation, water and air. It recognizes that westerners revere their physical surroundings and that they need and deserve a stable, productive economy that is accessible to those with modest incomes. An ethic of place ought to be a shared community value and ought to manifest itself in a dogged determination to treat the environment and its people as equals, to recognize both as sacred, and to insure that all members of the community not just search but insist upon solutions that fulfill the ethic.
Can planners and communities in general codify a holistic approach to sustaining our growth (with built-in controls tied directly to the stream flows and habitat requirements of unleashed — dam-breached — river basins) while allowing for influxes of populations and industries, into the urban environmental reaches without taking into account the lifeblood of what defines the west (or defines it through the substantial lack thereof): water? Can we hold sacred the force of river ecology and river magnificence while still compensating for our consumer-driven economies that depend on water for this American lifestyle? The answer to these questions rests in a redirection away from the practices and excesses of lifestyle. Denver’s average daily household consumption of water is 750 gallons. Las Vegas averages 350 gallons each day for each resident. More than 60 percent of water used in places like El Paso, Phoenix, Vegas and the like goes for lawns and landscaping. Beef-raising takes from 2,000 to 6,000 gallons of water per pound off the hoof. Microprocessing plants in Albuquerque gobble up 5,000 gallons of water per 8-inch microprocessing chip. We know our needs and our wants, but can we realign the limits of nature, the ethic of our contribution to our place’s harmony?
The second-longest river in the United States is the Colorado, at 1,700 miles; however, its banks are not heavily populated — no big city stands on them. Yet it is one of the most diverted water systems in America. In River: One Man’s Journey down the Colorado, Colin Fletcher speaks of his trips down the Colorado:
Because all but the headwaters flow through the desert, and the river is the area’s prime source of water — that lifeblood of existence on this planet — it has attracted prodigious attention, both political and engineering. We humans now control its flow so iron-fistedly that my friend Philip L. Fradkin called his book about the Colorado A River No More. … It does not grow steadily bigger: after an early maturity it receives no major permanent tributaries. In its final stages — largely but not entirely because of human interference — it tends to taper away. For years on end it may never reach the ocean.
The Wanapum Indians on the Columbia River called it, Chiawana, or ‘Big Water,” and there is evidence of habitation by tribes along the Columbia dating back 10,000 years. They used a systems way of thinking, that is, seeing the whole, recognizing patterns, and learning to act accordingly. They relied on river-to-mountain migration patterns, and their total physical and spiritual existence was tied to the vast water and land ecosystems. Salmon was the tribes’ lifeblood, their subsistence crop — culturally and spiritually linked to the region’s economy.
At the Edge of the Water
A hominid jawbone (Ardipithecus ramidus) and settlement gathering scraps have been excavated from Ethiopia’s Awash River, dating more than 4 million years before the present. Our ancestors foraged the banks of the same lake, and human life developed within the reaches of rivers and lakes. The Tigris and Euphrates, the Ganges, the Yangtze and the Nile; they all provided transportation, fishing, mammal and bird hunting, bathing and drinking before they were diverted for agriculture. They became the sustainers of life and fertility: Mother of the Land. The word for river in Thai, mae ran, translates literally as “water mother.” The floods of the Nile are associated with the tears of the goddess Isis. Ireland’s River Boyne was worshipped as a goddess by Celtics. Of the life sustained by rivers, salmon are associated with much myth, as much as any animal. “The Salmon of Knowledge, legend had it, swam in a pool near the source of the Boyne. Anyone who tasted the fish would acquire understanding of everything in the world, past, present and future.” For the Pacific Northwest natives, “the salmon were superior beings who ascended rivers for the benefit of people, died and then returned to life in a great house under the ocean where they danced and feasted in human form.”
Rivers provide life and death. Irrigation is about 3,000 years old as a technology — in 1900 40 million hectares of cropland were under irrigation worldwide compared to 248 million hectares in 1993. Rivers have served as roadways — “all great historic cultures have thriven through the movement of men and institutions and inventions and goods along the natural highway of a great river,” writes Lewis Mumford. We owe so much to rivers, to the unchained movement of water from landscape to landscape that the world should be imbued with the word “riverscape” in describing our geographic locations. “To trace the history of a river … is to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body,” wrote Gretel Ehrlich.
for every real lock
there is only one real key
and it is in some other dream
it’s the key to the one real door
it opens the river and the sky both at once
it’s already in the downward river
with my hand on it
my real hand
and I am saying to the hand
open the river
— W.S. Merwin
Damnation the Dams
For a bit of boasting, Washington lays claim to the fact that the Columbia River is the most hydroelectrically developed river system in the world, with more than 400 dams, producing 21 million kilowatts. It comes from two lakes between the Continental Divide and the Selkirk mountain ranges. It has ten major tributaries: the Kootenay, Okanagan, Wenatchee, Spokane, Yakima, Snake, Deschutes, Willamette, Cowlitz and Lewis. The most important, the Snake, is 1,100 miles long and runs through North America’s deepest gorge, Hell’s Canyon, at 7,900 feet deep.
The world’s rivers are forever altered by dams. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 70 percent of U.S. riparian habitats have been lost or damaged by damming and diversion. In the Pacific Northwest, more than 100 stocks and subspecies of salmon and trout have gone extinct and another 200 are at risk, mostly due to dams and loss of riparian habitat. The Nile is the world’s longest river at 4,132 miles but because of irrigation facilitated through damming, less than 10 percent of the river’s flow reaches the Mediterranean Sea. Damming has brought significant change to watersheds. Nothing alters a river as completely as a dam. A wild river is dynamic, mercurial, transforming itself and the land and flora and fauna around it. A slack reservoir is the complete opposite of a river. Still versus flow. “A dam traps sediments and nutrients, alters the river’s temperature and chemistry, and upsets the geological processes of erosion and deposition through which the river sculpts the surrounding land,” writes McCully.
Dams and river diversions do not produce new water. The amount of water on earth has remained constant for 2 billion years, and while 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, only 3 percent is fresh water, and out of that amount, less than 1 percent is easily available for human consumption. Water planners, governments and international agencies have touted the theory that the 21st century will be fraught with wars over water, which in effect justifies water diversion projects and damming. Of course, the pipelines and pumping stations usually are built for the least frugal, the rich, and take away water, power and to the people, from those who use the least amount of water, the poor. Damming can reduce potable water supplies through tainting water quality and evaporation in those huge reservoirs.
The world has 40,000 large dams that have displaced 60 million people, leaving them poorer. An area larger than California — 400,000 kilometers — has been covered up by dams’ reservoirs Excessive irrigation has destabilized the soil through salination. Dam projects force poor nations into huge debt loads that destabilize economies and put more pressure on the poor populations. The World Bank is the largest financial backer of dams, funding 26 dams a year from 1970-85 (now it’s 4 per year, a sign of change on many levels). Malaria and schistosomiasis — incubated in the canals and still waters created by dams — outbreaks kill tens of thousands of people a year.
A dam is a momentary human bash to the midsection of a river. I like to know that, to put it in simple terms, the river will win. Like a rabbit and a tortoise: dams are put up quick, but the constant pressure of the river, beating and whirling, will break through. This is an idea beyond energy watts produced, beyond conserving water for drought. It is the original plan for the flow of water.
–S. H. Semken
Restoration, Healing, Health
Water use in the past 90 years has increased exponentially, and we’ve witnessed a 200 percent increase of per capita water use, accounting for a 566 percent increase in withdrawals from the freshwater sources around the world. This water grabbing has also played a large role in lowering the amount of water available for humans, wild and domesticated animals, and plant life because of the pollution cased by industrial and agricultural methods. Planners and technologists may see the building of dams and diversion systems as ways to neutralize the “war for water,” but evidence shows that the past century’s dam building mania still put 1.3 billion people without access to fresh water, and more than 1.7 billion are without minimal sanitation. Add to that 2.1 billion people without power, and we might draw the conclusion that dam building doesn’t benefit people — the people of the land, of the regions — but rather dams put money into the pockets of corporations, despotic governments, and multinational banking concerns.
So following a land ethic adopted by Stegner, Leopold and Wilkinson, a few questions arise in relationship to human communities and their associations with river systems: Who owns a river? Is access to clean water and adequate food a human right? Is cultural integrity best ensured by environmental integrity? Groups like International Rivers Network and American Rivers have generated great local interest worldwide in facing off the discriminatory practices of dam builders. We have already seen various forms of exploitation in this damming history: displacement of farmers from good alluvial soil (farmers who are subsistence, usually non-white with strong cultural ties to their land). Ray Dasmann sees the ecosystem-based or biosphere-based cultures as the strongest in terms of holding to the land ethic — societies whose life and economies are centered in terms of natural regions and watersheds. Wendell Berry writes about the “unsettling of America” through an economic pogrom penalizing us if we try to stay in one spot and do anything well there. This is the overarching idea of inhabitory people who see their land as sacred … all land is sacred. And urban elites have scoffed at, overtaxed, marginalized and vilified peasants, paisanos, paysan, peoples of the land, as Snyder points out. Now is the time to heal the land and its people by unleashing the river.
As Heraclitus wrote, we cannot step into the same river twice because the river is constantly changing — the very nature of water. As westerners moving into this great landscape, we need to link to our rivers beyond the potentiality of more golf courses and shopping malls. We need rivers as more than emblems; we need healthy watersheds so people can learn to control their own needs, control a community’s growth and urban decay, control the factory farming and unchecked ranching that the west has come to symbolize. Valerie Rapp in her book, Water the River Reveals, discusses many aspects of the rivers of the Northwest in this simple but telling book; the chapter headings reveal much about how the river must be engaged: “Going Upriver,” “The Elegant Connection,” “Disturbance and Resilience,” “Respect and Transformation,” “Broken Connections,” “The Simplified Landscape,” “Uncoupling the Ecosystem,” “The Landscape of Salmon,” “Restoration,” and “Refuge.” Her book ends with a call for a regional vision for rivers and watersheds — linked watersheds:
In the Pacific Northwest, all the rivers are missing at least some pieces. The best we have are the almost pristine rivers, the healthy salmon stocks, the key watersheds. The connection that should bind the pieces together in a resilient web are severed or frayed. But the Pacific Northwest rivers have more pieces than the rivers in the rest of the country. They have enough pieces that healing is possible.
Alternatives to the Same Old River Song
“The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.”
— Suquamish Chief Seattle
According to Sandra Postel, international water scarcity expert, water demand in industry could be cut now between 40 and 90 percent with existing methods and technologies. Combine this with a 30 percent drop in water use for cities and between 10 to 50 percent drop in agriculture’s use of water, and we have hope that the future will see more and more self-imposed river saving conservation programs. These conservation measures and technologies do not generally impede economic output or quality of life. Water management is part of a United Nations conference charter established in 1998 for freshwater management policy. The main points include the philosophy of an inhabitory land ethic:
- safeguard the rights of access to water for future generations
- limit water demands
- ensure equitable distribution
- protect the environment
- maximize the socio-economic output of a unit volume of water
- increase the efficiency of water use
Organizations like International Rivers Network develop advocacy and information clearing houses of information about projects worldwide where rivers are being unleashed and water use is being reinvented. They also provide technical assistance and economic aid. Here are just a few of the alternatives to damming and high consumptive demands put on water:
The greatest potential for water conservation in the west rests in increasing irrigation efficiency. More than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water withdrawn from rivers, lakes and underground aquifers is for agriculture uses. Traditional water harvesting technologies include rain- and groundwater harvesting, micro-dams, shallow wells, low-cost pumps, and moisture conserving agricultural practices, all of it sustainable. Permaculture is a sustainable agriculture technique (way of thinking) based on working with natural systems, rather than against nature. Desalination projects don’t lead to displacement of indigenous peoples, changed agricultural lifestyles or serious ecological effects. Recycling wastewater is largely an untapped technology for irrigation and groundwater recharge.
The idea that dams produce irreplaceable energy is one of the toughest to alter, especially in hydroelectricalized Washington, but the U.S. is making progress. Since 1973 we have gotten four times as much new energy from demand management savings as from all expansions of domestic energy supplies put together. That’s $200 billion in savings each year on energy bills. Many other ways to get power or water that cause less damage to ecosystems are available to planners, even as a replacement for their favored large infrastructure projects. Solar is the second fastest growing energy in the world. The earth each year receives 10 times as much energy from the sun as is contained in all the known reserves of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium combined. While wind power may not produce 100 percent of the time, it still could provide a larger proportion of energy in places with good winds. Fuel cells produce electricity, heat and water without combustion by reigning in the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen. Small-scale hydropower projects better serve local economies and help develop local skills. These are small dams — under 10 megawatts — that are less harmful to the environment and surrounding communities. Biogas and ocean power are technologies of the future with much potential. In developing countries most organic waste like dung is burned directly for fuel — biomass energy. Biogas is practical and economical for recycling large amounts of organic waste. Burning biomass puts 700 million women at risk for developing serious health problems in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization (1992). Wave power harnessing devices are already available — economically competitive and efficient as well as clean. One such device used in the United Kingdom is one-third cheaper than coal with the additional benefit of no carbon emissions.
Green Shadows in Water Deliver Our Hope
“Consider this water which flows toward the city. … See how pure and fine it is! But when it enters the city … people wash their hands and faces and feet and other parts with it, and their clothes and carpets, and the urine of all the quarters and dung of horses and mules are poured into it and mixed up with it. Look at it when it passes out the other side of the city! Though it is still the same water, turning the dust to clay … making the plain verdant … disagreeable things have been mingled with it.”
In the process of writing this brief overlay of ideas, I find hope. In just a two-hour look-over of the Internet, I found group after group dedicated to restoring rivers, breaching dams, cleaning up watersheds, reclaiming the land — all with the idea of the Wilkinson land ethic embedded in their mission statements, that balance of human life and nature, culture and economy. One bibliography on dam removal found on-line contains more than 200 sources from around the U.S. and world — titles like “Restoring Southern California Steelhead: Dam. Why Care?” or Instream Flow Protection: Seeking a Balance in Western Water Use or River Dammed, River Redeemed: Dam Removal and Salmon Recovery in the Pacific Northwest point to a new direction, a new ethos (new to the conquerors, not the Chief Seattles) for dismantling the systems and philosophy set forth by the Lords of Yesterday. The IRN list of Washington River Organizations covers more than 220 individual groups fighting for their fisheries, their watersheds, their wild and scenic places.
Native American cultures and environmental practices can be easily linked to other inhabitory peoples around the world. Snyder is one of the leading voices, a poet, “formulating a concept of international bioregionalism based on traditional and innovative practices of inhabitation and re-inhabitation.” Solutions rest with the people who read and continue to understand what Deep Ecology is and how we all must engage ourselves in studying the overlay of other people’s ways of the land (and water) and other countries’ solutions to the watershed management and ecological wholeness. It takes an understanding of the interconnectedness of all lives on this planet, not just a “think locally, act locally” mentality. We can change the course of the rivers’ futures in our lifetimes through belief, discipline and ritual. We must understand the fragility of refuge and the toughness of nature. Leopold tells us we must expand the boundaries to make this new ethic applicable to those of us living west of the 98th meridian: the land as a collection of soil, plant, animal and water ecologies. We are part of the biotic mechanism, and sometimes humanity must make some hard-boiled points — like the trees and water are more important left whole rather than lumber and diverted water. It all connects to the very idea that the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals leads to global warming. Forests and water and species and humanity — it seems like an easy lesson for urban and rural planners to grasp and run with.
It’s all about water in this new Next West of ours, where we can restore old rivers back to new acclaim so we all can have the sense of community the rivers have always led us to believe we could find amongst teeming masses and isolated subsistence farmers. Rivers connect cit to city. Their force generates a connectivity to land, animal, heavens. Most rivers running through cities have been harnessed, muddied, polluted, drained, or pooled. But this movement to break down dams so rapids return, so communities built on or near the river can gain a sense of nature even within a heavily demarcated urban space, seems to take into consideration nature and humanity creating an adjusted or abbreviated livable place. Rivers fulfill their promise to enchant, enrapture and entertain; yet their basic lifeblood provides humans with the vitality of life through the energy inside their very ions. Moving along the river path as recreationists or fishing aficionados or along its banks in public spaces like parks and wildlife zones generates the psychological salving our communities’ need. Major cities throughout the U.S. use rivers as their centers or their boundaries. Rivers are in an hour’s reach of most urban spaces. How can planners not incorporate river thinking in planning our cities’ growth patterns and long-range community health? The river and systems that grow with them prove to be the most unusual solutions to some of the destructive forces of urban decay, sprawl, and sociological abandonment.
“Eventually all things merge into one … and the river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops … under the rocks are the words . . . and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
— Norman Maclean
Prince and the Salmon People Study Guide