Welleweah is an old Nez Perce word used to refer to the Grande Ronde River, in Northeastern Oregon. Like many Indian words, that often have more than one meaning, this word had two: “river that flows into the far beyond” and canyon where horses winter well.” Similar to place names that meant different things at different times or to various individuals, many of the words used by the Nez Perce are also onomatopoeic. This long, rolling greek derived word,  describes  rhetoric formed to copy sounds that are associated with an object or action. For example, coyote is called itsiyiyi or iceyeye, and comes from the yiyi or yeye yiping that is often heard when these wild canines howl at the moon, or whatever it is that they howl at.

It is also a word that describes what we sometimes yell as we plunge through exhilarating rapids of the wild rivers we float.  Why this primal urge hits when bouncing through lively whitewater may be related to the electricity in the water that comes from the spirit of the river.  Like a static charge, it jump starts the heart and promotes a surge of energy through one’s soul.

Before maps, google earth, and cars, when travel was confined to foot of man or horse, places and distances were larger than they are today. Or at least, relatively, that is, when the earth was still thought of as flat, rather than round.  Though circular thinking was large in primal times, by direct observation of nature’s way, it took more human inventions (telescopes, etc) and  thought evolution to determine the earth was a sphere and not something to fall off from.

From an early Nez Perce perspective, looking at a canyon like the Grande Ronde, more than a hundred miles long from where we launch boats and rafts today, near Minam Town, to our take-out at Heller Bar on Snake River, was like staring into oblivion. It probably seemed like the river, indeed, flowed into some far beyond place that took days to get to or could  never be  arrived at. But, they did winter their horses in the canyon parts they were familiar with, as the forested canyon of pines and fir also had lush grassy slopes for their animals.

Not only horses did well in the mix of grass and tree montane habitat, but so did deer and elk, and even the wooly mammoth, of times even farther back. This canyon provided wonderful forage for stock animals of the Nez Perce both in summer at the upper end, and winter on the lower elevation parts.

Unlike horse travel used to traverse the ridges and old Indian trails, our boats make sight-seeing in this canyon much easier and less impactful than grazing animals. While there are no Appaloosa horses, for which the Nez Perce are a famous for developing, or mammoths ambulating around, we do often see deer and elk getting their fill of the green of spring.

For river travelers of today, enjoying a watershed is much more than getting “rapidly” entertained.  Watching natures show, with all her cast members fading into and out of various scenes along the way, add a stimulating dimension to a river that will transport you into a time and place of the far beyond.

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

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

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