The Power of Place

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Owyhee May 1-5, 2010 Canon 148

In nature, certain places have a special power to pull in one’s soul.  The mystery of why these types of places have such a magical feel to the traveler that discovers them, may never be adequately expressed by words. Just as photos can never adequately paint a picture of those same areas. Only the human in real world experience can feel such things.  To me, the Owyhee River in SE Oregon, is one of those places that continues to suck me in each spring when the snow begins to melt.

Owyhee May 1-5, 2010 Canon 163

It is a time I relish, because this desert river only provides enough water to float in the spring time.   It is also a fickle time of year weather-wise, which in turn affects flows and boating. Crossing fingers, doing a sundance or raindance, maybe an incantation or two, and a lot of hoping help describe the waiting times for floating this river.


For me, aside from winter steelhead fishing by driftboat, the Owyhee is the first extended, multi-day river trip we begin to run each year. It is our kick-off to another whitewater season, so it also means a lot of elbow grease working on boats and rafts to get the dust and cobwebs off.  The water levels of the Owyhee dictate which type of craft we will take, as hard boats do not do well in very low water conditions. Wood and rock are not a good mix when it comes to floating.   Rafts are better, but in extreme low flows, size of those critters are critical too.  Trying to squeeze a 7′ wide raft through a 6′ wide slot, is in the realm of a magic trick gone bad.


Having floated this river for around 40 years worth of trips now, my back log of stories includes lots of personal relationships with a lot of rocks, hard places, and some experiences I am glad are behind me.  A lot of images come to my mind as I work on boats and visualize up coming adventures.  These same extreme experiences have given me a good backlog to evaluate water conditions and develop cut-off levels for determining what kind of boat or raft I will take for the next trip.  Reducing risk for potential problems from day one is the name of the game for minimizing problems and having more time to enjoy the canyon, rather than pulling rafts off rocks or putting bad dings in hardboats.


So far, based on rare evidence of other party wreckage and carnage, I have been pretty lucky not to have the worst nightmare stories to tell, and I plan to keep it that way, as much as possible. Those kind of stories are better for someone else to have and tell. But, I do whisper all this, nare the river might hear my words and reciprocate by playing  tricks on me.


But as I work on boats getting them shined up for the Owyhee, I can feel the river’s pull from this high desert sage plateau. I can even smell the pungent sage and feel the desert breeze wafting its aromatics across the wide expanses.  It is hard to put a finger precisely on just what that magic is that contains such a power.  It’s only a feel, and one must go there to really know what that really means.  All I know is that it exists, is real for me, and that it is calling now. Only a few more suns for trip number one on the Owyhee and soon magic will be all around as each oar grabs another foot of downstream progress.

Owyhee May 1-5, 2010 Canon 063

Always room for more


Who Needs A Guide?

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No one, and everyone, is the finely distilled answer.  If you could ask Lewis and Clark what value a guide has, you would soon discover how important their guides were to the success of their mission.  For example, on the 1806 return trip in June, Lewis and Clark had great apprehension about crossing the snow-covered mountains in ID/MT without guides. They felt they could not cross without them and luckily were  able to persuade  Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp, who were three of the very best Nez Perce guides to lead their way. Of course, these were not their only guides, as Sacagawea also played a huge role in leading them a good part of their distance in uncharted territories.

These  Indian guides were as excited about leading the expedition then, as guides of today often get when taking modern people into some of the same  rugged and beautiful landscapes that continue to drop jaws.  The Nez Perce were paid with guns which made their hunting easier, while guides today get paid in money which  make their livelihoods possible. Though the more esteemed value to both types  of guides was deeply felt in the heart and spirit where no material things can be taken.  What is life really about, if not to get out and see what there is to see and to share with others the utter magic that it represents to all ?

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But, in the process of getting out and seeing things we have never seen before, it is only reasonable to find a good guide. It can be a writing guide, or human guide, but in either case it is the information and knowledge they contain that we seek. Sure, anyone can go out on their own without consulting any form of guide for true unadulterated exploration. But, aside from that goal, guides help us save time and offer more opportunities to see cooler things we might otherwise miss.  It takes a large chunk of time to make your own trial and error path trying to negotiate any new jungle.  The learning curve is greatly reduced by piggy-backing off someone elses  consumption of time to figure things out.

Even guides consult other guides, maps, guidebooks, and any source that might provide additional insights into becoming more intimate to an area. Whether it is new country, or a different perspective in familiar country, one can never learn too much.  So while some say adventure is not the map, it is still true that a  map  has an advantage to make the adventure less risky and time effective endeavor.  Dead end trails eat away time and back-tracking efforts can sometimes even be cause for missing a final planned destination when time runs out.

Hidden dangers, and dangers not even suspected to be dangers that are known to guides, but not the uninitiated, can mean the difference between failure or success, or in extreme cases life and death.  All through time humans have sought the advice of guides. From soothsayers to Youtube, people continue to seek some kind of source to guide their way forward through the world.

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As a river guide, I often find myself in places such as where  the Nez Perce guides of yester-year once stood, in awe of their surroundings. Like a special place in the mountains where Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp stopped before a rock Caryn built by their ancestors to remind other travelers to pause and wonder at the meaning of their world.  It is said that the voice of Itsi-yai-ayi, or spiritual Coyote, would sometimes speak to those who listen:

“Frail Human, standing tall with head near the stars above,

Proud-standing, with feet on the birthing-place of rivers,

Safely have you come thus far through these mountains.

How could you tell which way to go?

Looking up, what do you see? Nothing but sky.

Looking down, deep canyons.

Behind – mountains. To right and to left – mountains.

Looking ahead – mountains. Mountains as far as eyes can see.

You, who are a mere Human! How can you find your way?

Something Greater than you has been your Guide.”


Who floats your boat?


See for guided adventure.

The Roundness of Ice and Absurdity of Irony.

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Well, ice is nice, but sun is fun, and spring is beginning to fill my mind. However, before winter fades totally from the carnival of natural events during this time of year, some thoughts about ice still keep re-circulating here.  Why?  It is all quite amazing.  One of our previous river guests found the above picture of an ice circle on Planet Earth Phenomenon Facebook page. He then posted it on our FB page with the following comment: “This is a pretty cool picture of a Idaho river I am sure Gary could take anyone to it.”  Little did he know, I was the person who actually took this picture.

Then my wife, Barb, tracked down the photo on Planet Earth Phenomenon and noticed someone else had taken credit for it, though probably not intentionally, (truth gets  distorted easily ).  So she went about the task of  attempting  to set the record straight.  After all, we do take pictures to share, but would at least like credit for it.  Once informed, PEP then corrected the  misinformation.  Following their change, another guy whom had been trying for about 5 days to track down the true origin of that picture, rippled yet another set of motions. He went on a mission to contact us to see if we were indeed the people responsible for taking that picture, because he wanted to know the story behind it all.

But, when he called, we were upriver.   I was fly fishing for steelhead while Barb was helping some other lady friends pick up garbage on the river (ya I know, typical man – but hey, historically I have spent many such similar days). However,  when we got home, Barb found his message,  so gave him a call.  He told her his story and it ignited a series of several emails back and forth, where we soon learned we had many similarities in life styles, appreciation for rivers,  and nature.  Thus, the snowball grew.  After all, “it only takes one rock to start an avalanche.

This is also when we learned this photo had been going viral, which also led to our discovery that when we googled “ice circle” our photo came up everywhere on a ton of other sites. Little did we know the power of our own reach.  It also led me into a giant loop of feedback in memory.    Many past events of my various encounters of ice related situations began playing around in my head.

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An ice circle, more technically called pancake ice, thus created quite a stir. It sent my thoughts far back to times when I floated the Grande Ronde in the middle of winter, when I  had to pull my raft across several ice bridges. Quite terrifying at first, but I learned how to read ice, like reading rivers, which helped me know how to deal with a host of unusual conditions more reasonably.  But, it also increased my awareness for how to access areas most people don’t, and to see things  most people won’t, because of their fears. It catapulted my appreciation for barriers. They are like walls to keep at bay those things that make solitude hard to find.

Ember Manning Br Jan 6, 2013 026

I soon learned that the “offbeat”, (climbing over or around barriers) is a great dance step.  May not look pretty on the dance floor, but what a fun dance it makes to put your toes into wonderful places without worrying about getting stepped on.  Not being afraid to look or be different and to go against the common flow of things has great rewards.

Like seeing deer grazing under giant frozen waterfalls, elk swimming across a river to gain more food on southern exposures,  bald eagles cruising for prey weakened from harsh weather,  and water ouzles (dippers) playing amidst it all – taking underwater dips in all that coldness.


Note: as I was writing this post, yet another writer/photographer from a paper in Montana contacted us to get the back story to our picture.  Again, seems quite amazing.  On the surface it all seems like such a random thing.  But diving underneath it all, like the dipper, another world exists, along with new revelations. Sometimes random, is not as random as one first thinks. ( absurdity of irony). In nature, there are power laws that rule which serve to bring order out of chaos. (more fodder for another post down the line).

For the curious, here are some interesting links all related to ice circles and the back story:

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