Have you heard them? Ever been floating on a river during high water and heard the boulders tumbling along the bottom with an amazing rumble? Or floated on glacial waters when suspended gravel  up-wells on the bottom of your boat with a sickening sound like  what a leak would make when pressure meets the water escaping from a punctured tube?

What about the sound of a rock skipping across the water, or an avalanche of scree sliding down the hill? Is not that another sound of rocks speaking to us? If I was standing at the bottom of a steep pitched chute  I would heed the warning of that audible message.

It is all a part of natures language, but so too, is another aspects of how rocks can talk to us.  Eons ago man was drawn to record his story (history) on the face of rocks for the generations yet unborn.  In this case, the rocks are just the messengers projecting  the thoughts of humans wishing to communicate to those in the future.

When visiting such pictographs (painted), or petroglyphs (inscribed) that we visit on many of our river trips, the common question I get asked is, “what do they mean?”  If only I could be so astute at reading these testimonials to the past,  and offer up some astounding answer.  But, an educated guess is the best I can do.  Recalling what I can from a native american  who studied the artwork from his ancestors, he claimed that many used the  hand gestures of sign language  to employ meaningful representations on the rocks.  Often the messages were to give directions like road signs do for highway users of today.

For example, a dot with an arch over the top of it, meant go over the hill to find a waterhole.  At other times, the rocks may have been used as places to record family or clan history, or additionally,  for spiritual reasons. It was a common practice to honor all other creatures and creations that were viewed as  having spirits to appreciate, too.  It represented a worldview that all things in nature  are connected, and of equal value.

This is an opposing worldview from those of  European descent, many of whom even today, continue to see man as separate from and above nature.  This is a worldview that led to doctrines like Manifest Destiny and its offspring, the idea of  Eminent Domain.  Such ideas have also been expressed in stone by the dominionists.  Only these thoughts  are scribed into letters and words, then set into marble and also placed at important locations.

A few years back I made my first ever trip to Washington DC. I had been requested to testify before a natural resource committee about the importance of roadless areas in Idaho, as the integrity of their wild value was being considered for future management.  After the meetings, I took a walk on the Washington Mall to take in the sites and feel the land.  Curiously, I found it to be a place hugely symbolic of the politics and worldview that shaped our country. Marblized words on stone monuments everywhere reminded readers of ancestors who were seafaring foreign people seeking freedom from tyranny.  The hypocrisy was troubling. Euros landed in a new east, only to win the West by dispossessing indigenous people already native upon the landscape. Freedom for whom? It all saddened me.

Borrowing the original ideas of democracy from the League of Iroquois, our founding fathers arrived at the Constitution and guiding principles that govern our society today.  Even Thomas Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to learn how native people lived on native lands for lessons to help a budding new nation prosper.

A big irony in my traveling 2040 some miles to this land embraced by the Potomac River, is in its name sake, and Algonquian/Powhatan word for: “where the goods are brought in.”  Indeed, more “goods,” or more specifically, “roads,” were being brought before a national appetite for more land.

It was nice to get back to my home in Idaho and  the Salmon River as my backyard.  My wife tells me the rocks call out to her and is how she determines which ones to collect. I think I too, will stick to the messages of our local rocks, as opposed to words chiseled in marble, that merely represent a forked tongue message. Boulders and rocks, glyphs or not,  seem a much more honest  oracle for the language of nature. When the river rocks begin to speak, I will always listen.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

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