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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