What Color is a Blue Moon?

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What color is magic? That might be a better question. A blue moon isn’t blue, just like magic doesn’t have any color either.  A blue moon only gets that name  when it appears full, twice in one month.  The derivation of it is a bit controversial, and doesn’t matter much to me, all the same.   The reason for this unusual phenomenon  is more interesting in the mechanics of it all.  Basically, it happens mostly in  months that have 31 days, since it requires 29 point something (itself a variable)   days for the moon to reach fullness.   This variance is due to the elliptical orbit the moon has around our planet.  Naturally, February, even in a leap year will never have two full moons.

Calculating the lunar cycle can be daunting, when one wades through the astrological parameters that affect the math, but for most people, it matters mostly just enough that it appears twice in one month, whenever that is.  Most people see a full moon as being “romantic”, rather than arithmetic, anyway.  Why is it that people think of love during such celestial displays? Does the moon really have some special power when casting its fullness over our earth-bound gawking?  Or does it even matter why? It just does, and that is good enough for me.

When on the river and camping under a clear night with  conditions that allow us to see the moon’s dance across the sky, some of the views are simply transformational.  Watching rapids and waves sparkle with a thousand points of flash,  as reflected by indirect sunlight bouncing off the moon, burns lasting images in my brain.  Sometimes the urge to row under such light and magic is too overwhelming and I gladly give in.

It is different, dipping an oar into that magic moonlight water.  With each soft stroke, it is beautiful to see a dazzling trail of shimmering diamonds falling off their tips and back into the river.  It sends a flight of excited shiver  down my spine and urges me to howl in ecstasy at the moon.

Even the shadows of ducks, mere silhouettes bobbing on the water under that same moonlight, is an eloquent display of nature’s nightly grandeur.  Ordinary things seen in the light of day, take on a mysteriousness that only the shadowy forms of the absence of direct light bring forth.

Anything seen in sunlight, looks so much different under the spell of the moon, despite it still being the same thing.  We see it with the same set of eyes, yet the receptors in each eye responds differently to light and dark. Rods allow us to see better in the dark,  and cones allow us to see color in the light. They both help us interpret things differently, because each is impacted by opposite sources and send appropriate messages to the optic nerve and main highway to our brain.

Rowing a boat under the soft light of the moon, enables fantasy fairyland apparitions to come alive.  Perhaps only in  our imagination do the unseen things reveal their presence,  but it matters not, when the illusion seems so real.  It is said that perception is everything, and for me, it is ok to dream on and let my mind make its own reality.  Dancing with creations in a fuzzy fantasy world is too enticing  not to do. So, having two full moons in one month, and enjoying them while floating the Salmon River is a special riverine treat for me, to help polish off another  whitewater season coming full circle once again.  Thank you Grandfather Sky.

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


Aliens Arrive on Meteorite Rock

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It would appear that a giant meteorite landed on the banks of the Salmon River near Riggins, Idaho with suspicious looking characters from another world. I believe that may be like in  “close encounters” of the Cottonwood kind. This group from the Cottonwood area on the Camas Prairie, are neighbors to Rigginsites (the small “drinking town” with a big whitewater problem). Often they must get away from the hay  fields and high Ag country to skip town for fun in the sun down in the canyon where “in your face” whitewater can cool your jets and allow the river’s medicine to sooth the soul.

At least that was the intention of this group that Misty rounded up for this weekend float trip. Most were friends and neighbors from her neck of the woods, and they certainly know how to cut loose and let their hair down.  Running two paddle rafts, vying for the best possible runs at every rapid encountered, turned out to be highly successful. That is, success, as defined by hitting everything big, but precise, keeping all paddlers in the raft and not the river, and rafts right side up at the bottom of each run.

We did have to also  stop at Meteorite Rock for some root beer floats, to wash down a couple of beers that may have snuck out of the cooler. Oh, and did I mention a good place for a “group picture.” This unusual rock is so out-of-place, in relationship to all the other uniform rocks around it, that my mind has tumbled around different theories as to how it got there. It is a smoothly polished rock , with voluptuous pothole sculpturing, and is testimony to a fluted art form that only a river can be artisan of.  But, why doesn’t all its similar sized sister and brother rocks have the same markings, rather than the drab “just another rock” appearance they surround it with.

There is only one other similar rock, about a quarter-mile upriver that looks like it could be the parent of this smaller meteoric bedazzled boulder.  Both look exactly alike, and it is not hard to picture that the smaller one broke off the larger and somehow got transported down river. But how? It certainly didn’t float down river, and even tumbling downriver in high water seems highly unlikely. My theory is ice. Perhaps this area had some glaciation and the ice carried this large boulder to its current location, then melted away, leaving evidence as to its passing.

In Alaska, this happens all the time, and the large boulders deposited on various river beds, miles from any source material, are called “Devil Stones.”  Does Salmon River have its own version of a Devil Stone? After all, Hells Canyon is just over the divide, 15 miles away, as the crow flies.

Nez Perce legend has it that Coyote made the Salmon and Snake River Canyons. So it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine Coyote may have played a few tricks and left some Salmon River Devil stones just for humor.

Of course,  geologist tell us their version of what happened to our area of the planet, too. They say that the Riggins area is a “Fracture” or “Suture” Zone.  This means that millions upon millions of years ago the east shore of the Salmon River was the main continent, and the west side was ocean. Then islands somewhere offshore of Alaska drifted their way to this west shore location and collided with the mainland, as plate tectonics did its work, pushing up mountains and ruffling the relief.

However, the  landscape on both sides of the river now looks the same due to relativity. Thank you Einstein, for such a convenient explanation for many things in nature. That is, in relatively a short time geologically ( the last 30 million years – an age called the Miocene Epoch) we had the Columbia River Basalt Flows. Cracks opened in the earth’s surface, lava spewed out, oozing over the landscape, damming up rivers and creating lakes.  Then sedimentary materials filled the lake bottoms, as new outlets cut canyons  ever deeper with the passage of time. So within that Miocene time span there were from up to 70 to 80 different lava flows that filled the canyon, so now the landscape takes on the appearance of a giant “Nature Cake” layerd with lava and sediments, just like a fancy gourmet layer cake baked by professionals and wannabe Betty Crocker’s (after jail time, Martha Stewart may not be as much of an idolized wannabe  now)??

At any rate, the important thing here, regardless of legend or science, is that there are sure a lot of cool things to see that nature has to offer. And the most wonderful thing of it all, is that so much of it is available just by floating a river and paying attention. While thrills and spills (planned ones to swim and relax) are high energy boosters to excite the adrenalin,  the other attributes that floating through “Nature’s Disneyland” invoke, are both interesting and curiosity quenchers. There never is a dull moment for those who seek time on the water.  And that is especially true for the aliens from Cottonwood whom landed on Salmon River this past weekend. Fortunately, they were all my kind of aliens, fun to be around, good sports,  and great country-neighbors.  Encounters with the Cottonwood Aliens is welcome, anytime, with the Wapiti Clan. Thanks Misty, for landing your friends on Salmon River to become acquainted and converted to River People for awhile.

Olympian Waggle Dance Behind the Scenes


Often those who get most of the glory in many professions stand on the shoulders of those behind the scenes that play a large part in lifting them up. In my case, a big part of the reason I get to continue sticking an oar in the water is that my wife does a fantastic waggle dance to help get me there. A waggle dance, you wonder? Well, that is a term behavioral biologists use for how honey bees communicate in a hive.  Nestmates inside the hive have elaborate movements (called the waggle dance)  which they use to inform others  of the location and distance of food from their hive.

My wife, Barb, spends a lot of time on the phone communicating information to potential guests about the type of trips we offer the public. She is very good at answering questions and providing an honest assessment of expectations that people will appreciate when they arrive.  No need for stretching truth, or painting elegant pictures that often accompany typical hype many advertisers use to entice people to buy their products.  She knows that satisfaction comes from matching people’s wants and needs to the type of adventure that will most likely come the closest to fulfilling their expectations.

Before she was tied down to the office world, she helped guide trips on the river. However, she sustained a back injury only after a couple of years of guiding, that curbed her abilities to continue oaring down the river. It was an unfortunate circumstance, but one she had adapted to, as she continues to answer inquiries with informed advice and expertise.  Though, she does not get out on the river as often now, she still gets out when situations avail, and loves camping out and the entire river trip adventure.

Did I mention she got her interest in picking up mis-guided driftwood along the way? These stray pieces of wayward wood make it to our shops frontage in the form of landscaping that she is also very good at building.  Our shop is not your typical river business attraction. It is more like the river itself, as everything represents many of the fine elements one would find in a more natural setting.

Our business is made up mostly of repeat guests, and that is something we always strive for and appreciate.  The real beauty of the smaller group size trips that is our specialty is that it increases our friendship base.  Satisfied guests go home with many fine memories and feeling more like having made new friendships, that are much more valuable than just being another clog in the giant advertising machine that is often at the center of our culture.

Barb has been a big part of this.  Not only does she keep me out on the water as much as she can, she also prepares lunch materials on day trips, and shuttles our rig for launching boats and again for picking us up at the end of each adventure.  Of course, a lot of paper work is also required to keep things running smoothly, that she also covers.

While it may seem like running rivers is just about having fun, there is more to it than meets the eye, as Barb can attest to from her experience in the trenches of what happens behind the scenes.  Like anyone who makes it to the Olympics, it requires a lot of time and effort to get one to that final lofty crucible of champions. In my book, she is a true champion.

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


Olympics Inspire Whitewater River Running

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Watching the Olympics this summer has been a great reminder and impetus for me to continue pushing my limits in boating skills. Rowing a dory and/or raft all whitewater season long is always a joy, not only for the thrill it provides, but also the opportunity to strive for even more perfection.  While dory boats require a higher skill level and more diligence to cleanly ply difficult rapids than pushing rubber,  I always pretend my raft  is a dory boat all the same.

Though trying to fine tune my boating skills each and every time I run a whitewater rapids, having the Olympics to watch (when not actually out on the water myself)  has been an additional inspiration to continuously improve my skill level this summer.  Even though I have nearly 40 years of experience, I always push my personal envelope for expanding abilities and capabilities each time the oars are in my hands. Having participated in sports when in highschool and college, further enhances my love of competition and excellence as exemplified by the Olympics.

Watching expert kayakers negotiate gates with ultimate precision at such a consummate level, and the agony of rowers plying the waters with oars in racing shells, hits home to me.  I feel their pain and understand the rigors of strenuous training that goes into becoming highly skilled at any sport or endeavor. Though I fail in comparison to acquiring the level of achievement of these Olympians (in all sports), it is still a thrill to watch them  and is of tremendous inspiration to continue down the road (river) like they do, in the pursuit of such excellence.  Ever striving for perfection is the name of the game, and there is always something greater to shoot for. Limits are made to be broken and is the carrot to constant improvement.

It has also been very rewarding to watch our newly recruited river guide (Misty) this season, blossom back into a great river professional again. She also seems to have that same love and desire to become a highly skilled boater.  I first met her years ago, when she was an  apprentice for another river company in our little  “river town” (Riggins, Idaho – known as the Whitewater Capital of Idaho).  Though we did not work together, we bantered back and forth when our paths crossed on the Salmon River.

However, at that time, while I was a career guide, she was only a temporary, and eventually found employment in the banking world. By chance, we met again during a local Big Water Blowout event our community has been holding for the past several springs. She told me she retired from her job and was ready to get back on the river again, and if I had any openings to let her know. By luck, I did, and thus she began helping me on trips this past summer.

Aside from her charming personality, and contagious enthusiasm that all guests also easily catch, she is serious about developing her boating skills.  She likes to go for the gusto any time she can when serious rapids appear, but also wants to be right side up (as do we all) at the bottom of each run. The beauty of this attitude is that it is a critical ingredient (in my opinion) in the recipe for becoming a consummate boater, in the skills department. Developing technical skills in big water helps immensely in over all performance levels, and is critically important for having the  proper skill set that is required when things may go sour at some point on the river, as all guides will eventually face at one time or another.

Of course, it is also very important to pay attention to detail, and the small things.  Such things as not going for the big stuff when guests are intimidated by such or have some sort of challenging situation.  Recognizing age, or poor health, and subtle ways of gauging guests abilities is a very big priority for any  river guide worth their salt.

A sure sign of a  rookie guide is the number of eddy monsters that they get  caught up by.  Negotiating through  troubled waters, filled with whirlpools, boils, and crazy water, is no easy feat. Practice, practice, and more practice is the bottom line.  Even veteran pro’s with tons of experience can get pulled in now and then. The “River” is the true master.

Anyone can become a guide, but not all guides are equal. Not all of guiding is about running whitewater either, as there are so many other things involved, too. But, foundationally, having high skills required by the river profession is as essential as in any other kind of work.  More importantly, to maintain that high level of technical expertise requires constant vigilance and a mind frame aimed to that end.

She has many of these attributes  and has been performing very well this season. I have watched her nail runs, while other guides ahead and behind her miss the mark. Of course, most guides make successful runs, and guests often don’t recognize the difference between a good run and a great run. But those riding in boats which make the harder runs look easy, and recognize the subtle differences and nuances in challenging currents and waves, may enjoy a greater appreciation and pleasure. Not to mention, an additional level of security, when it comes to feeling safe when their destiny is in the hands of someone else.

It also makes me feel appreciated that she chose to seek my advice and counsel about improving her boating skills, during her drive back into the guiding world. Even though running rapids is a little like riding a bicycle, where it does come back to you, how good a rider you become is all about training. Though I might like to take some credit for the great runs she has been having,  in reality the river is the real teacher, and she has been earning good marks in her learning.  It is a bit of twisted fate that the Olympics happened during the same time frame that  she decided to return to guiding,  as it reminds us all how important it is to constantly strive for perfection. Going for the gold is more than just an Olympic goal, it is a way of life and an inspirational pursuit to bring out the very best we can in ourselves.

While the races and games are awesome to watch in and of itself, the life stories of many of the athletes is truly amazing. To see and hear the tribulations and hardships many of them were able to pull themselves out of, to get to the Olympics are heart wrenching, tear pulling, and testimony to the powers of the human spirit when sparked into a positive direction. It ignites an enlivened hope to us all for expanding our personal growth and pushing for the stars.  Perhaps there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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

Or for fun on the big creek:


It’s Not About the “Guide”

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Recently my wife, whom proof reads some of my posts, made the comment that it sounded like I did not give people, other than guides, enough credit for appreciating the value of the river and related outdoor experiences.  Apparently she felt I was coming off too strong in making it sound like only guides, whom are on the big creek for a significant portion of their lives, can reach such close experiences and deep ties to nature.

In my defense, as it is always hard not to try to justify one’s position, I reminded her that it was  a blog I am writing, and my blog at that. Which means, the views I present are about my perception of the world and how I experience things. No way, can I know for sure to what depth and meaningfulness other people experience the same world we all live in.   Of course, my intention is to hopefully convey what nature does to me, and in so doing, inspire someone else to want to join us on the river. Either  so they too can have another great  river experience, a different approach, or a first time engagement with the watery world of downhill currents.

It may sound trite or far fetched,  but I have seen people have life changing events during the course of an extended river journey. The power of our collective natural world is truly astounding.  As a guide, it has always been about how to provide a vehicle for other people to also appreciate the river experience at the utmost pleasurable potential.  I have never lost sight of the fact that the reason I get to continue having the great experiences on the river, is because of other people who have the means and interest to be enablers. Only, in this case, in my biased opinion, this is a good kind of enabling. Perhaps “perpetrators” would be a better word for “enablers?”

Often I have seen guides whom like to bask in the lime light of being a “guide” (in big quotation marks).  It is easy to get taken away by being the center of attention when a person is in a position of leadership and authority. Sometimes  a petted ego  swells  too far beyond the point of diminishing return, and the inflation can be that of intoxication. But, who likes being around an obnoxious drunk.?

What I particularly enjoy is finding out what motivates other people to have a good time. Rather it is hiking to unusual, and secret places I have discovered over time, snooping around cultural sites left behind by earlier  inhabitants, to swimming rapids, diving to see fish, or catching them on hook and line – the outdoors is a plethora of opportunities just waiting to be unleashed for the right people to come along at the right time and right place.

You have to go, to know. No substitute. Pictures and other people’s words are but a mere form of artificial representation of the real thing.  A map is not the territory anymore than a river log is the rapid.  When muscle meets the endeavor, the acuity of reality is actualized.  Thirst is quenched only by the drink. We are here for such a short time on planet earth, why not drink in everything we can. Down by the river, or on the river, is as worthy a place as any to enjoy water and life.  It doesn’t get any more primal than that. “Be here now, or get here when you can.” (one of my guide friends use to always say).

People of the Oar

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When a group of people come together to participate in some kind of common endeavor which holds special meaning,  a natural kinship is strongly formed with one another. Be it by blood or not, there is a bond that unites them all,  and is often referred to as a clan.  Indian cultures have always had clans from day one, and is probably how various ties developed to make these sub-tribal groups adept at various pursuits in living upon the planet.
While often first nation people, that is, the original inhabitants of an area, have always been considered as indigenous people, I have often wondered where that designation originates or terminates.  The line seems blurred to me, because we are all indigenous to Motherearth in some aspect, simply because it is a common place we are all born into.  History is a bit  relative. Once we arrive, each day forward creates our own personal history. It matters not, where the starting point is, upon our time-line, as we travel during our life long burning of the human flame. What matters is how we burn our flame and what we leave behind.

To me, having evolved into a river outfitter and guide, over the years, it has always felt like the professionals of the river community-sphere  comes close to being a similar form of tribalism. Like Peoples of past centuries  who  lived close to nature and were dependant upon earth’s natural resources at a more primal level than most people of today appreciate, the land and river  guides this day and age seem to mirror that same connection to earth. They are  a little like a second generation of beings engaging the world in more raw terms and similar kinship with Indian people in their world view.

As guides eke out a living, simple, and far less materialistic than corporate flavored Americanism, they have developed a common spirit of appreciation for the natural world.  When living close to nature, in a hand and mouth, more or less subsistence level, there comes a deep appreciation for base values that sustains our existence.

As the oarlock turns, and each stroke contributes to the designing of our own destiny, there is a powerful feeling of accomplishment that comes with navigating a rapid right side up.  When negotiating difficult waters, the challenge is often daunting, yet ever so electric when safely accomplished.  Amping up on the river’s juice, is power in itself, that courses through the veins of our own being. Our very veins are only an extension of the river – itself a vein of Motherearth.  Being one with the river, is more than zen. It is a way of being that helps us feel the efficacy of the life-giving water our tiny orb sustains us with as it spins through-out the universe.


Swallowed Whole By Salmon River Ilt-swi-tsichs

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Ilt-swi-tsichs?  Yes, this is the name given to a great monster that roamed the very heartland of Nez Perce Indian country, before they became Nez Perce Indians.  According to their creation legend, before people, there was a great monster with a mega appetite, that roamed the landscape of west – central Idaho and eastern Oregon. It had a voracious appetite and devoured every animal it could find.  Desperately,  the few remaining animals  called upon their hero “Coyote – the Trickster,” to work some kind of magic trick on the monster to save them.  So coyote hatched a plan and worked it cunningly.

He tied himself down with wild grape vines, then taunted the giant Ilt-swi-tsichs to suck him into his cavernous body. The monster huffed and puffed, and finally sucked coyote into his giant stomach. All the other animals were there to greet coyote after his ride down the slippery esophagus and passage into the big digestive room. But coyote was smart, he had a knife tied to his shin, so he took it out and stabbed the monster with it, from the inside. Then he cut a passage way out and freed all the animals. What to do next? Fox suggested: “why not make people out of all the monster’s body part?” So coyote did. He cut off the head and made the Flathead Tribe. The feet became the Blackfoot Tribe, and all the various body parts became separate Indian tribes. Lastly, when coyote held up the heart, trying to figure out what tribe to make next, a drop of blood dripped to the ground. Up sprang another people. People of the Heart, now called Nimiipuu or Nez Perce.

To this day, in the Kamiah Valley you can see a stone that is said to be the result of the Great Mystery, who turned the heart into a lasting form to remind the people of where they came from. Though this geologic wonder is along the Clearwater River, I found another place in Blue Canyon that has a similar rock form that may have served the same purpose for the clans and bands of historic Nez Perce. For it was Chief Whitebird and Toolhoolhoolzote occupied that occupied the  heartland of the Salmon River Country. At least, it does for me, as I engage my thoughts when passing by this unique riverine landscape.

When I float over waters of the Salmon River, I feel like I too have been swallowed up by the Ilt-swi-tsichs.   Descending the river is like sliding into the giant monster’s stomach filled full of a vast wilderness. It exposes me to a timeless emptiness, yet full of the essence of everything. That  fullness carries all the powers of an infinite origin and expansion –  a bigness that highlights smallness. It is incomprehensible, yet utterly humbling in all its mystery. And I am thankful for that.