Santa’s Answer

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 iceboat shane dec16, 2013 007

On  Christmas eve, an unexpected gift came to me from high in the sky.  With a bit of serendipity added to the mix, it was a welcomed addition to the prosperity of my spirit.  I was sitting in my hot tub with its panoramic view of  the Salmon River, where I often read and bid farewell to the days last fading light…and then…


Having just finished a passage in a book by a guy who recorded his three-month long canoe journey down the  Columbia River from top to bottom, where he was describing why he was doing it, I closed the book and looked out to view the sun’s last light on the far hillside. Just then my peripheral vision caught movement that directed my attention to the sky. Looking up I spied a bald eagle, shining brightly in the cobalt blue background of sky with glimmering brown wings and body, separated by a stark white head and tail. Then another one appeared, making two adults circling around my little hot tub world.

Wow, I thought, as I had just finished the solo river traveler’s revelation about seeing various wildlife, and comparing it to how it affected his education. He compared his book learning about nature, to the actual experiential  observational one, and how much profound the real encounter with nature is to the abstract book learning way. And, I couldn’t agree more, as I watched the eagles circle over head. After all, I have learned from seeing them many times before, (mostly on their morning hunts) that by waving my arms it could attract their attention, as does most movements impact wild things that depend on such for food and survival.

Often the lords of the sky-world  would be enticed to circle longer, to check out what my movement was connected to, as they again did tonight. But unlike the dull early morning light I normally watch them in, this light was of the golden variety indicative of a setting sun. They were high enough to catch those last rays and the thermals it aroused,  so were able to use it to advance farther upward.   And as the two adults continued their circling,  a juvenile appeared from downriver and flew up to join them.  The natural drama was spectacular as gorgeous light played on their forms. Did I mention the  contrasting  brown feathers between the glorious white heads and tails?  Ok, that image burned a lasting impression in  the furrowed portions of my brain.

Their concentric circling sometimes over-lapped like rain drops do when they hit flat water and spread out in all directions.  Then the uniform waves get interrupted into chaos emanating out willy-nilly everywhere.  Similarly, my thoughts began to ripple around, too. They drifted into questioning how  it was that events  like this are still possible, knowing that at one time eagles were taking a sharp decline and once an endangered species. Basically, two reasons for being able to observe such wonders:  1) I go outside and open my eyes. 2) eagles have made a comeback due mostly to the courageous action of Rachael Carson. She was the wildlife biologist who wrote Silent Spring and took on the task of challenging the giant pesticide companies using the chemicals (DDT) that were causing the decline of many birds of prey, besides just our iconic national symbol.

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Her efforts rippled outward, just like that “raindrop effect” and made a huge impact as to how things turned out for the eagle. To me, it brought home how important it is to honor our ancestors, as she is now, but her spirit carries on. That dimension of life that we may not see, but now permeates throughout  the natural system.  Like the spirit of Santa Claus and the idea of gifting it represents, it is important to keep the idea of giving back to nature, including our own human nature, in order to pass the torch of compassion forward for co-existence of all life forms.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”    Norman Maclean

chukar oct 24, 2013 010



What is the Nature of Nature?

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steelheading dave baum nov 2-3, 2013 002

What is natural? What is real?  Are things that are man-made natural?  It seems to me that the fact that anything exists at all, is in itself evidence for belonging to the natural world. Human nature comes as a result of humans acting out in relation to all of nature, or simply put, our dance with the environment.  So whatever man makes becomes intertwined with the natural world and becomes either good or bad.  Our choices determine cost or benefit, or that which will either enhance life, or undermine it.

Similar to the question of what is natural or not, are dreams real?  Or are they just another reality that influence our behavior in the physical world.  Our dreams, be them unconscious ones that come about during sleep, or those we conjure up as we create ideas about our future, still help bring about their degree of reality in the physical world. We take steps based on our dreams to help make them come true in some kind of form or another.

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Philosophically, naturalism and supernaturalism has always been a big question to mankind and a huge influence on how humans act and re-act while they are alive on planet earth. Supernaturalism gives rise to ghosts, gods, religions, and purpose for which man has always tried to answer why he is here. Humans need explanations for everything to help satisfy a curiosity about why things are as they are. Wanting to know, is the carrot that keeps our wheels turning and motors running.

snake river oct 7-10, 2013 rh trip 020

Supernaturalism comes about when we have no evidence for something, but still feel the need to explain their reason for being.  So we make things up to give them purpose, otherwise we would just be, rather than being.  Nouns are what we are, but verbs are what we do. So having purpose helps us in the doing, and going, as we wade through time as a living entity.

green rock yellow raft dec 3, 2012 S315 001

We give spirit to everything, as a way to help us define how or why things are as they are. Rather it be the spirit of adventure, or the spirit of an animal, or a person, all things in nature have spirit as we allow them to be. Man is not satisfied to just be, as we question what it is that is behind our brain making it work. A soul? Our inner self? The dimension that we cannot adequately understand or explain, is about spirit.

All things in nature have spirit, because we allow it to be so.  Even when an animal dies,  it’s spirit is like a scent that can be followed. A vapor like essence that is made visible just by thinking about it. Spirit trails, star trails, and story tales, are clues we human kind like to follow.  They lead our way in the search for truth.

That there is some male throne figure lording over the universe, is highly unlikely, though some sort of power may flow through everything, never to be fully understood in human thought, but perhaps always a “Great Mystery” during the lifetime of each person.  In passing to whatever the next dimension is, perhaps the mystery will be solved, perhaps not. But at least, mystery and curiosity help shape our perceptions of why and how everything is, for humans are never satisfied that everything just is.

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The nature of nature is a circular puzzle with spherical pieces that may perpetuate unsolvable solutions into the far beyond where infinity can never be fully comprehended.

Barb Sept 27 2013 014

The Beauty of a Circle

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Jack’s send off ceremony was held on Oct 13, 2013 on the Salmon River, ten miles upriver, at the giant eddy at Spring Bar Launch and Campsite.  This was and continues to be an ancient Nez Perce place of importance, but now more of a bi-cultural mixing grounds where all those who truly love this place often gather.

Jack's Memorial - Oct 13, 2013 009

After ending our sacred boat circles at the Spring Bar Eddy on the Salmon River, in tribute to our passing river friend Jack Kappas, the power of circular motion continued on.  I learned later that while a few people shared more stories around a shore side campfire after our more official ceremony, other friends were fishing below the sacred eddy as their chosen way of extending memories. They hooped and hollered when they caught 5 fish, as they were listening softly to ipod music, Jack would have liked, and felt his help urging steelhead to bite their lines, was with them.

Jack's Memorial - Oct 13, 2013 022

In addition, when Charlie and Lesile headed homeward, they spotted a bald eagle sitting on the rocks at Hippie Beach, which then flew upriver towards Spring Bar. They too felt like it was Jack heading back upriver again, keeping an eagle eye on the river he loved and friends who loved him. Perhaps that eagle’s flight was part of the help for those fishermen upriver and their prized steelhead.



The day after our memorial three of us (Kristin, Barb, and me)  that were also close friends with Jack, gave his  “Uncle Ernie”, a  tour of the canyon and showed him a few of Jack’s favorite places.  He felt bad that he had never visited our area to take advantage of Jack’s many invites to get him on the river. But, we assured him he was now here and fulfilling that need, all the same, though in different form, Jack would be happy.

Before we left the canyon we had one more final tribute to pay, as the two girls forgot to get Vic’s (Jack’s favorite chocolate lab ) hair and a few fragmented bones that Jack had saved after his dog  drowned in the Salmon River, and I forgot my drum for our original ceremony, so we gathered at the side of the sacred eddy to complete or intended circle of both in a special riverside ceremony.

After entering Vic to the river, then some drumming with three last solitary beats, one each for the 3 ceremonial  boat circles, as Nez Perce consider that number sacred, ending with one moment of silence. Astonishingly, but not surprisingly,  a fish jumped near where Vic had been entered to re-join Jack.  It reminded me of a favorite  quote: “Silence is the voice of the Great Mystery” and how mystery permeates everything in nature.


A couple of days later I took Charlie fishing upriver, and we had a wonderful day on the water. We shared many stories, about Jack, other river friends, and a gamut of subjects. Kirk was also fishing below us, and I had to tell Charlie about some “Wapiti Moments” that Kirk and I had on the Grande Ronde years ago, along with the original 5 (including Jack) of us who attended the ground-zero salmon and dam breaching hearings in Lewiston years ago.

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The day was long and we did not see Kirk again until end of the day when we both arrived at the ramp about the same time. the three of us shared more stories about Jack, those crazy “wapiti moments” (when things go south, and ingenuity kicks in for survival) and other pertinent things that tie river people together, especially this special  place in the canyon.  We all have  our own life circles and stories, and as we ended our fishing day united at the ramp from our separate loops, did we yet come full circle again as the sun slowly set into the far beyond.  We all had smiles on our faces, just as the ancients smiled down on us. Knowing all the while, with each new day, all  those smiles will soon be returning.

Great beauty is truly found in the circle.

salmon river spirit oct 2013 007

Erosion is the way of nature.

chukar & steelhead meal, wood cutting Oct 2013 020

Roll on river, roll on.


Tribute to Jack Kappas (1946-2013) – Jack’s Last Run

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Unlike a straight line, defined as the shortest distance between two points, a circle continues on forever. Like some folks description of God, no beginning, no end, just always was, always is.


Many things in nature are round and cyclic. The shape of our planet, all celestial satellites, billions of suns and zillions of galaxies, all spin forever re-looping back upon their trajectories, over and over like a natural perpetual motion machine.


Such is the way of life and death on our home in a restless universe, as we whirl about the immensity of space. When those of the living lose a loved one, through all the terrible grief of the untimely moment, comfort can also be had in the realization that nothing really is ever lost.  Chief Seattle once said, “There is no death, just a change of worlds.”

So, though none of us know for sure what the Great Mystery will tell us, if anything, when we pass on to be recycled cosmically, the spirit trail we leave behind will still fill the hearts of the living as memories and stories as evidence of our presence in the giant scheme of things.

All will be touched differently as they think back of their experiences with a loved one that has passed, perhaps remembering their face in the maw of a huge whitewater rapid, or a simple smile in the reflection of a calm pool. All add beauty to the circle of life and death, and will always be in motion just as nature intended it so.


Our good friend Jack, a cherished member of a beloved dory boat family, used to row the Glenn Canyon when he worked for Martin Litton’s Grand Canyon Dories back in the days of old.  It was a fitting dory boat name, as Jack was a staunch supporter of breaching four dams on the Snake River to help bring back salmon and the true life spirit of the river. He appreciated science and the natural free flowing way as the proper law of nature.


When he first came to the dory world he came on one of his first apprentice trips with me on the Owyhee River. I remember him in the front of my boat when I entered the wrong side of a bad rock garden and all hell broke loose. Not sure how we made it without a bump, and right-side up, but we did.

Owyhee 6 day April 1 2013 198

So, now that Jack has moved on to navigate the celestial Milky Way, and even bigger cosmic challenges, perhaps I will come to do some apprenticing behind him, in some future time. Such, is the way of the circle.

As an old boatman’s saying claims: “We never grow too old to boat, we just get a little dingy.” That is, before we all eventually step into our eternal spirit boat. As Jack follows those boatmen and boatwomen before him, and we who will eventually all follow, shall the circle be unbroken.

The one thing about legacies, especially left behind by river people, is a fitting line from Philip  Pullman,  taken from the famous dory tale of the speed run through the Grand by fellow boatmen bonded by common dory world friendships,  in a book by Kevin Fedarkos (now also a part time dory guide) entitled the Emerald Mile:

“Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten,

but: “Once upon a time” lasts forever.”

On one of Jack’s boat pads he wrote the line: “I’ll be right back.”  To that I might add, see you in the stars, Jack, once upon a time.




Cadillac Tar Sands – Megaloads & Scenic Rivers


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Like water, oil runs uphill towards money and not far behind it is rude and crude corporatocracy on the chase at all costs. No obstacle seems too large for big oil’s search for the black gold. No rules too big to break, as megaloads push north for the Canadian Tar Sands along Idaho’s  beautiful Clearwater & Lochsa River waterway. How quick the loss of memory about how the Nez Perce befriended and helped Lewis & Clark down this magnificent drainage in 1805 on the old Nez Perce trail. Yet today, that same trail, now Highway 12 through reservation lands  is taken for granted by conglomerated giants of industry for access to the new pot of gold, regardless of the needs and interests of the Nez Perce people.

This same avarice was the motivation behind early gold miners quick to trespass into Nez Perce lands after being supposedly protected by the 1855 Treaty. It is no mystery why land and boundary disputes soon arose and morphed into new treaty negotiations with aboriginals in an attempt  to reduce the size of Nez Perce reservation lands.  This led eight years later to the 1863 treaty that was not a fair transaction from the get go and eventually escalated to the epic saga of Chief Joseph and the War of 1877.

Not much seems to have changed over the years. Now, in 2013 The take-over of Highway 12 by Corporatocracy is akin to the 1863 Steal Treaty, as certain historians and Nimiipuu people refer to it, when the US Gov’t grabbed Nez Perce lands by the standard instrument (treaty) used to fulcrum title to native lands.  Our republic’s legacy of breached treaties and repeated betrayals is the nefarious way the west was won.  Early European sprawl used the  doctrine of Manifest Destiny and god sanctioned dominion over native people and the natural world, as the Christian justification for spreading roots and usurping control. 

So in a country gained by lawlessness and coercion, yet  brags about being a democracy, while also having a double system of justice, one for the elites and one for the commoner, what else would one expect in  a land consumed by  such historic hypocrisy, unbalanced disparity, and ruthless genocide?

The latest push by the megaloads up Highway 12, in ignorance of consultation with federal and domestic sovereigns, is yet another example of running rough-shod over communities of people with the industrial nose stuck high in the sky and snorting into the air the snot of arrogance and superiority.

To claim that a river corridor has enough beauty to give it wild and scenic status, then treat it as if an ugly step sister, is like giving someone a gun for protection, but not giving them any bullets.  What use are designations, if rules used to established and protect these values  are ignored and not enforced?  Part of the reason the white man gained an early  reputation of having a forked tongue, is that they often failed to walk their talk.

In an anti-federal state like Idaho, our leaders like to stir the states rights and privatization pot with a forked stick to match their tongues when it comes to scientific truths about natural resources and land use practices, along with  their inept social integrity and dishonor in dealing with treaty obligations.    Responsible negotiations with Domestic Sovereigns?  What be that? Scorched Earth and Acculturation is still alive and well in Idaho.  Only now, authoritative policies circumscribe an even larger circle of people, trying to herd them into the center for better control, often by questionable and illegal means.

With a world view of dominion over nature, our culture sets about trying to control nature, but ends up mostly breaking down and fragmenting various ecological niches, which then requires looking for alternative ways to fix them. From endangered salmon to greenhouse gases and extreme carbon footprints,  if lessons could  ever be learned from history and native cultures world view to co-exist within  a more harmonic framework of community-connections to all nature, instead of totalitarian attitudes about keeping it controlled and reined in for selfish gain,  the world would be a better place for it.

Projext Wild 2013 015

But, elites have a good way of convincing the commoners that they have their best interest at heart, yet are mostly out of touch with reality of ground truths pertaining to the natural economy and ultimate carrying capacities. They revel in their personal privilege while simultaneously escaping responsibility for exhausting and polluting most natural resources in the process of accumulating exponential wealth. This drives the compound interest of environmental degradation debt ever skyward and closer yet to the edge of no-return. (the humpty dumpty effect – as proven over and over  again by many great societies of the past). Once broken, it is difficult to put back together again, and on a finite planet you can’t just always expect to find good solutions over the next hill, because it may be the last one.  

GR July 8-11, 2013 196

 Small changes happening incrementally may give the false impression little things don’t matter. But collectively, through time, all grass eventually turns to brown, though it happens too slow to see until it all finally makes the transformation.

  Stand together

 “It only takes one rock to start an avalanche.”


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 ?

Catspaw area Mar 8, 2013 013

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.


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