Ice is Nice



Many rural towns, like our nearby Idaho neighbor of McCall, have ice carnivals, parades, and sculpturing contests, each winter.  It is indeed amazing to see what human artists can create, but they never can quite top that which nature carves out of the cold.  My wife and I often get out to attend the parade that flows through our backyard, down the Salmon Canyon.   Various conditions of winter weather and fluctuating flows of the river reveal a wide diversity of natural creations.

Like the wood carver who sees the form of  animals in a log, or ice sculpturers who see entities in ice, then helps them escape and brings them into reality with his/her  craftmenship, the river releases shapes, forms, and textures with its handywork, too.  It is like watching a magic show, as normal  things get changed into something else, by natural sleight-of-hand trickery not readily seen by the  eye. Suddenly the “real” can paradoxically become morphed into the “unreal.”

Do you see the frozen eagle? Barb first pointed this one out to me.

While there are different shows going on all the time, my favorites are anchor ice, travertine-like frozen pools, beautiful rossettes, and  the enchantment of melifluous melodies that is sometimes the rivers characteristically rare tune. The ones that occur on our Salmon River are quite grand, due to the magnitude of the size and scope of the river and landscape itself. The river is what we call pool and drop. The geology is such, that declivity and side canyon debrie flows have produced natural “damming effects,” to the course of the river. A long slow stretch behind rock piles which pool the water can be over 75 feet deep on the Salmon River.  These same rock piles, or” debrie fields,” is what cuases the rapids to occur.  Just above many of them are shallow “tailouts,” which are favorite places to pull plugs for steelhead. But, also is the only areas where the river gets shallow enough to enable “anchor ice,” to form.

Anchor ice is caused by  current  that is too fast to freeze on the surface, in areas not deep enough to prevent it from freezing on the rivers substrate.  Meanwhile, the deeper pools freeze over on top, and offer enough depth  that anchor ice does not form on the bottom.  The deeper water acts sort of like a layer of insolation from the cold.

Other interesting fromations form  in the larger rapids, when it gets cold enough to actually start freezing even these fastest  portions of the river.  As current crashes into boulders that are exposed above the waters surface,  they begin to slowly freeze againt the rock until they build around and over them. The resulting mounds in some rapids take on the form of a small village of igloos. Some form pools between them or as shelves build up from the damming effect of numerous, closely spaces rocks.  Often these areas take on the appearance of travertine-like pools like those seen at Havasu in the Grand Canyon. Instead of calcium carbonate, the rim around each pool is cause by ice.

Each winter is different, some seasons having more than one period of break-up, as the process of freezing and thawing may repeat itself. But it is during these time frames when the beautiful ice “rosettes” are formed.  They ususal occur in the sections of river where there are large re-circulating eddies. The circularity  of the motion, during the melting process, cause various sized islands, roundish  in shape,  to calve off. They continue to spin in the eddy, until other chunks of ice coming down river bump into them. Then more ice is added and they get bigger, or they get cast into the main current, float downriver, and break up as they crash into various path-laden obstacles.

Not only does winters-hand create the bewildering and bizarre visual treats, but also interesting, and unusual sounds as well. I have heard ice when it cracks,  that  sounded like a rifle shot.  Sometimes the ice flows moan, sometimes they sound like a person taking a bite out of a snow cone. Other times the ice flowage  cathunks, thuds, crackles, and pops. But one time, a sound I heard the ice make was one of the rarest I have ever encountered in all of my years on the river during winter.


I was steelhead fishing during break-up, when most of the ice was gone, except for some randomly occuring shelf ice. But it was still cold, below freezing, and  where I was fishing had an unusual  matrix of natural phenomena that built up and found vortex nearby me.  Small broken pieces of ice had piled up against the shoreline ice,  which also surrounded a bed of spindly willows. A slight breeze was blowing at different intensities and the  combination made a weird sound as pretty as has ever met my ear. It sounded like there was a consortium, in the hundreds, of micro sized dwarfs that had gathered their wind chimes at rivers edge to give an orchestrated concert. Each playing a slightly different tuned wind chime, but all blended together  into such a  heavenly sound (only fantasy dwarfs could play),  that it cast a magical spell over me that I will never forget.  So rare was it, that I have never heard that sound again, though I visit the winter river very often, and have so for many years now.

Did I forget to mention that a solo white swan flew over my boat during the same time the dwarfs were in deep ecstactic rhapsody?
No. Not  drug induced. These stimulants are not necessary to hear hear things and see things. Just an open mind and ear. A healthy imagination also helps.

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Anthropomorphism? Pareidolia? Animism? Are We Humans Just Dominists By Nature?

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A few days ago, my wife and I made a trip up canyon  to check out the Salmon River’s ice sculptures and winter work of Mother Nature. Barb,  later wrote down some of her thoughts which included the idea that the river is always giving, but needs a time to rest, where no boats ply her waters, or people disturb her respite. Like herself,  the river also deserves a time to de-stress, so she surmised.

I hadn’t thought about the river in that aspect before, but it did remind me again of recurring thoughts I often have  about how we humans always seem to find ways to describe anything in nature in anthropomorphic terms.  We have Mother Earth, for example. After all, our earth is a living thing (Gaia Hypothesis). We often refer to many things in nature as a “she.” The wind, she is a gale.  Her rapids were ferocious.

We make shapes out of many things in nature, (pareidolia)  from animal  constellations in the stars, to figurine human likenesses of wind sculptured rock, to variously familiar forms  our minds describe in clouds.  And we name places accordingly, such as “Mammy’s Other Nipple,” attribtued to a magical place on the Owyhee River in Oregon.

We give animal powers to human traits (animism) and design iconic mascots for our various athletic teams.  We work like a beaver, roar like a lion, run like a deer.  It seems we impose our humanity on every aspect of nature? Why do we do this? Is our dominance as man over nature, embedded somehow deep within our DNA? Perhaps with our more developed brains, and thereby a larger responsibility we have to other life forms we share the planet with, there is good reason we carry such traits.  Maybe it is what helps us harbor compassion for other things outside ourselves.  It helps us warm up nature, and lets us avoid thinking only in cold hard facts.

We humans like to live in fantasy worlds, dream our dreams, and believe in mystical thinking.   Some use drugs to escape or explore the depths of the mind. Others  need no such outside stimulants to travel to the outer limits of human comprehension.  But however, and wherever we go, we will most likely continue to cast our human shadow over all before us. The universe is our mirror to help us see who we are.  In part, it is we, ourselves,  that is the magical looking glass we use  when we look into the river’s many reflections.


The following video is Remarkable:

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What’s In Your Backyard?


The Salmon River runs through my back yard. Yes, there are a lot of  Salmon Rivers throughout our country.  But, the one I am talking about is the one which flows through the second deepest canyon in North Amercia. The one  in Idaho, also refered to as “The River of No Return.” It is a name spawned by the Lewis and Clark days, when the local Indians at North Fork, 150 miles upriver of my home town of Riggins,  warned the exploratory expedition that if they attempted to go down the river, they indeed would No Return.”

Of course, history soon changed that idea, and now  many people  have opportunities to go where Lewis and Clark didn’t.  If only those early travelers knew what they had missed. I’m sure they would be eating their hearts out to learn just how close they were to such a bountiful country, rich in fish runs, wildlife diversity, and exqusite beauty.

Often people have desires to see Europe and other destinations at the far off corners of planet.  Yet, often there is a huge world in a much closer proximity, free for the taking.  I feel lucky to live in a landscape so grand in scale and charm, that it boggles the mind and stretches our understanding of the very concept of magnitude.

Even though I have a zillion strokes of experience boating the Salmon River, and as many footsteps trekking up and down the gorges many side canyons, I have learned that there is no shortage of new things to see.

Einstein is one of my favorite hero’s as I continuously find myself thinking about his theory of relativity.   Each time I step into my “big” back yard, it is like going to Europe. Each side canyon is like a different country. Each new rock spire, or hidden waterfall, is like a new village.  And upon closer scrutiny, all the villages have  their local inhabitants. All the inhabitants represent a small curltural niche, characteristic of their respective villages.  Each culture has their own language, from bird song to wolf howl. Drinking in these various aspects enlarges our communication with our oneness to it all.

We use telescopes for seeing afar, and microscopes for seeing under our noses, and again E = MC2 , as I spot bedded down deer under distant ledges, or a tadpole swimming in a nearby pool.  Thus I continue questioning the world, seeking from the outside to help learn more about what is on my inside. And all I have to do for that, is to step out into my back yard. What is in yours?

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Why is River Running Like Waiting for Santa?

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The short answer: because around every corner of the river, is a new surprise. A new gift from nature. Like awaiting for Santa on the night before Christmas, excitement reins/reigns supreme. The curiousity of what will be  his gifts,  is an anticipation of the unknown that is almost agonizing.  We humans are so thirsty for yet another mystery.  Perhaps it is why gamling is so popular, the potential is there  of something that could be so life changing. It represents finding  yet another  experience of excitement to add more joy to our world.

Some of the gifts I have been fortunate enough in receiving  can be appreciated, though never adequately like actually being there, by the following pictures:




Cheers for 2012 from the Wapiti Clan
Gary & Barb

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Reflections of a River Guide

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After some 35 years escorting various folks down some of the planet’s mot beautiful waterways, I discovered an interesting aspect to the human part of nature that changed the way I view the world.

As a kid, nature was where I went to escape people and their contraptions. The wilderness was, well, wild.  No mechanized things are allowed, just raw, pure nature.  The more time I spent stepping back and forth between two seemingly separate wolrds, I began to question what was natural or not.  The more I evaluated man versus nature, and looked around at all the carnage left behind by the extractive industries, the more my attitude towards human nature soured.

Everything seemed to be  about consumerism. I came to the conclusion that our flag was the wrong color and design. It should be green with big dollar signs.

 As the old Cree prophecy says, money cannot be eaten, yet we do all have to eat.  So my plan to put food in my mouth and do my part to help save the world was to figure out a way to work outdoors.  I would have to jump through the man-made hoops to get myself into the middle of nature’s hoops, an evolutionary process that led me to college, the USFS  – and then, back to the river.

It didn’t take a fancy wildlife degree to run people down the river, and I learned more about the “real” world and “wild life” there, than in some university ivory tower.  Often on trips, deep in the wilderness, people asked me what I did in the real world.

“Look around,” I replied. “What if I let you off on shore, and leave you here?”

People from all walks of life basically finance my lifestyle, and the one thing I learned early on, was the commonality  of all people, despite their profession.  Once on the river, even judges and lawyers had to live by the laws of nature.

My time on the river with people in the middle of nowhere reduced us all to our more fragile elements. For me, the river became a good metaphor for life.

Often we get swept up being busy bees, working, shopping, and tying ends together.  We easily forget about who we really are inside, where the real gifts reside.

At the end of the day, out on the river, what does it all mean?  People pay us to take them down the river. But, I don’t ever recall sitting around the campfire with a fist full of dollars. Retelling stories of the day is what I remember most and look forward to on every trip. Dollars are merely fuel to keep the engine running and gets us from camp A to B.

My profession was always more about finding something that would bring me personal enjoyment and a way to do what I could to pursue my first true love – fish, wildlife, and the beauty of nature.  People were secondary – at that time in my life, at least. Looking around the world and observing all the man-made environmental degradations that plagued our planet , left me very skeptical of the “goodness” of man.  We humans seemed like a cancer, slowly consuming everything in front of us with an insatiable appetite. Our culture seemed to be cutting every last tree, catching every last fish, poisoning every river, and consuming everything to the last drop.

I often felt like just moving to the mountains and becoming a simple recluse. Was there really any hope for mankind?  But where to run next? What then? Would hiding out ever solve anything?

As my personal life history eventually morphed into a worldview centered around the “river,” I soon caught another side of the rainbow. Sitting in a boat with folks and camping out for several days together, I came to appreciate the more positive side of people. From all walks of life, humans continued to stream through my world, as the river miles grew vastly behind me. Because I was always dealing with people wanting to have a good time, that is pretty much all I could see. Like compound interest, the collective experiences, story after story, made me appreciate the common thread tying everyone all together.

We all experience a frailty in a world full of obstacles and never-ending turmoil.  It is something akin to running big class V whitewater. Living,  constantly challenges us as we make our way down that same metaphorical river of life, doing our best to survive to the bottom of the next rapid.

We must always be alert. But, so too, we must occasionally drop our guard to play like an otter and soar like an eagle.  It adds joy to our life and lifts our wings.

During my experience out on the river, I can escape the big problems in the world, and focus more on the simple things. You know: Where to pitch a tent. What hole to fish. Which ridge to climb. The medicine of the river is like taking an aspirin  for all my daily aches and pains. It soothes my soul and recharges my energy. Like a natural cycle I come full circle again, realizing money cannot be eaten and man is not outside the circle.

More importantly, our earthly alloted time is all about the positive relationships we people can build with our fellow humans. We need to become more self aware, and take serious notice of what is happening as the oarlock turns in the “real” world.  It is what gives me hope that we can align our actions to Mother Earth with enough wisdom to collectively leave a proud signature upon her bosom for the Seventh Generation.

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The Importance of Just One Stick

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I called my favor niece (ok, I only have one) last night to catch up on some family matters, and had a pleasant surprise. I was thrilled by a simple story she told me about taking her 3 year old daughter, Aria, and my first Grand Niece, out on a hike in the forest behind their house. It was the same place I took her when I last visited about a month ago.

First it was amazing to me how much a 3 year old can remember, and secondly which things actually end up sticking in their memory.  What I showed her in our first ever hike together, was how to walk about in nature without getting lost.  The idea being, not to rely on man made contraptions, just the information nature provides, and your own wits. It was simple. I just showed her how to lean a stick up next to a tree as a marker. It is also how I track animals when hunting and make referrence points when exploring in unchartered terrain just for fun.


It was only one small thing. But in nature, it is those small things that can make a huge difference, as to how things work or not.  For example, ever try rowing a boat without a tiny little thing called an oar lock?  Shoot an arrow without feathers? Fly a kite without  a tail? But, Senas story about Aria reminding her to put up a marker stick when they entered the woods,  made me feel good that somehow a lesson I was hoping might stick, actually did.  What better gift to get this time of year, than to learn that sometimes those seeminly insignificant things really are more significant than we could have initially   imagened. It was a big stick for me.

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The True Color of Black and White

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It finally snowed last night here in Riggins, but  just barely  enough to turn the ground white.   Of course, it was the fresh tracking snow I have been waiting all along for  my late hunt, but now it is too late. And ironically by only one day, as the season closed yesterday. But how cosmic is that?  Are the forces trying to tell me something? Who knows?

But what I do know, is how ironic the universe can be when it conspires with itself to facilitate observations of natural stories being told for hungry eyes always tready for the taking.  Again, this morning, as my own tracks followed me to my hot tub, I no sooner climbed in when I was greeted by Mr Bald Eagle (the white part of this story). As it flew only a few yards stately overhead, I couldn’t resist to wave at it along with the newly arise sun.  Sure enought, it tipped its wings at me. Ok, perhaps more of a flare from potential danger, but it looked like a returning wave all the same.  My choce to take it as such, anyway.

Not 30 seconds later came a flock of jet black crows flying the opposite direction and a little farther away from me than Mr. Eagle dared to fly. They were in cruise control and heading out to some unknown destination only known to crows. They are the black part of this story, and along with the white headed eagle,  represent the sharp contrasts in nature that make it all so much more noticable and stark.  The absence of color and the full spectrum of color, was contained in their message. It confirmed to me the idea that many things are not just black or white, and that it takes both to complete proper perspectives when observing anything in nature.  From no color to all colors, it takes both extremes to compose the full picture of our natural world.

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Sleeping on Wolf Tracks

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I just got off the hill from a late bow season for elk , where I spent two nights camped out in the snow on top of fresh wolf tracks. Everywhere I went with long bow in hand, wolf tracks were all around me.  Most were right behind elk tracks, so my competition for food was pretty ferocious. I was the real under dog here, no doubt about that.

Sure, they take down elk. But I don’t mind sharing. In fact, I really appreciated being able to have the feeling of stepping right smack  into the middle of a sea of wolf wanderings. Never saw one, or heard any howling, but there hidden presence was a welcome addition to my immediate surroundings.

Never once did I feel threatened or tremble with any  fear while in my sleeping bag. Never felt the need for cozying up to a rifle back-up, like when camping in grizzly country.  No nightmares of vicious wolf attacks,  just pleasant dreams of living in a more robust wilds to be completely immersed into.  It was like living within a complete ecosystem, rather than a broken one.

These days there is so much mis-construed  fear mongering, by many who cling to false beliefs, that the general public is grossly led on to erroneous ideas. The “can” gets kicked down the street again, like politicians are doing to our future  by government of today. Unfortunately that “can”  contains a bad smell.  Rotten odor indicates when things go south, and that is not like in migrating ducks or geese avoiding heavy winter.

Sad and ironic is the level of perpetrated ignorance related to our natural world, when everyone seems so connected these days by internet and improved access to information.  Or in many cases, mis-information that also sits disguised right next to the true facts. For example, a recent study showed that many people who watch Fox News are often less informed than those who watch no tv at all.  Such are the ramifications of some media sources reckless use of non-factual information.

It is hard to manage anything wisely, with the wrong information. Not only can it lead to electing  poor representives for the people, it also means implementation of wildlife policies gone astray.  This all calls for people to be more skeptical and better critical thinkers. To put on their bull $#%$ detectors and take the time to filter out all the dregs. Check and double check. Sifting fact from fiction is crucial to furthering our community  betterment.

Take another look at the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The big bad wolf is getting a bad rap.  Who’s really getting fooled here?

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No Phones, Just A Call From The Wilderness

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It seems people these days have become largely swept up by the inventions of  mans technology. Most everyone wants so badly  to be plugged in to something, and connected in some way to the web that unites all things.  The cell phone craze is an epidemic running rampant throught the people of the modern world, as is such influence of all the other computers and high tech gadgets made by man.  At least in  the more industrial world, that is.

I once sat on a commercial airliner and noticed that many of my fellow travlers were so absorbed connecting with people by phone, or watching images of  human form  in videos on their laptops, that they were not talking with a real live human sitting right next to them.  It was like they were searching for something far away, when what they were looking for was right next to them.

While many await that next call from their friends, like awaiting for the gifts from Santa duriing childhood, they often miss the call from something much more grand.  It is a call that does not need any kind of phone to hear, or computer to see.  It only requires changing expectations from where the next  call will come from and tuning into it like changing the dial on a radio station.  You must change the channel if you ever want to hear something different. Nature has an important message for all, but needs more listeners. She never stops talking, though silence can be a part of her voice.

The rivers splash, giggle and gurgle. Birds chirp, sing, and scold. Elk laugh, bugle, and grunt. Winds whisper and howl. Lightning flashes and thunder cracks.  There is a hidden message behind all of nature’s calling. It is a personalized message, meant only for you and your interpetation.

But you can’t hear it with a cell phone in your ear, or see it with transfixed eyes in front of a computer. You must open your eyes and ears to everywhere around you where nature awaits your attention.  Ignoring her calling will be a peril, if put on hold for too long.

The next call may be for you. It might  be from the river.

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Deviations From The Norm


Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

– Frank Zappa

What is the norm? What is progress? How do they come about?  Often people are described as sheep because they run around following the one in front of them, all becoming a common denomenator and doing the same thing in a sea of sheep. Thus they become a part of the normal behavior where their view from behind never changes and their routine will always be predictable. Only when a sheep deviates from the pack and ventures into unknow territory may it discover greener grasses.

As the sheep graze along out over the landscape, they avance forward in the pursuit of better grasslands.  In their progress, gobbling up each new parcel with the passage of time, over grazing often occurs in the absence of a herder to move them along before each last blade of grass is eaten into absence. Without a herder, this progress is always the same.

Most sheep don’t realize that in their progress, they often over-consume essential natural resources, thus becoming victems of their own behaviorial  desires.  The lone sheep that braves a new world on its own often discovers more grass and a better view.

The next time you travel to your next destination to fish, hunt, take pictures, or just escape the ordinary trivial pursuits  of everyday living, look around with new eyes. Have you noticed more areas that have become off limits than what they were from the last time you were there? As land exchanges convert more public lands into private, and more private lands are being converted into just that,  by no trespassing signs, our potential recreational areas are incrementally being  diminished.

You may not have noticed. Qfter all, can you ever remember seeing the grass turn from green to brown? Its  conversion inched along right under your nose from Spring to  Fall imperceptibly changing without your notice.  Only after the fact, after the grass has turned brown, after the public lands changed into private, does your awareness change.

Often people largely chalk up  these losses as the price we pay for progress.  The worn-out  cliche, “you can’t stop progress,” is true.  At least in the sense that you can’t stop movement of time into the future. However, what progress becomes is a different matter. Changing how you look at progress can influence its outcome, but only by deviating from following the pack that is content to see the same view. As psychologist say, you can’t continue doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Change the behavior, change the result.

Sometimes it means maintaining the integrity of what you already have, rather than merely allowing more grounds to become paved over in the name of progress, that we can help save ourselves from blindly following those with who hold the whip and money bag.  As a society or community, if we are to advance in a direction more beneficial than the previous one, fresh perspectives about our own consumptions is essential.

In natural resource management the use of a concept called  multiple sustainable yeild is the applied science for assuring all resources into perpetuity.  Maintaining the integrity of anything requires that it remains the same and does not become something else.  Once it does, its original value vanishes.  Since every person makes a track upon the planet, each  step is connection to something and has an impact, imperceptible as it may be.

Considering current human population dynamics and our unbridled natural resource consumptions at multiple levels, it seems the time is ripe for taking those deviations from the norm. If we humans are to make a more beneficial progress, we must change our current behaviors.  Better to trade in our sheep skins for the plumage of a wise old owl.

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