Two Camps On The River

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When it comes to land management and issues that pertain to the natural world, there are two primary streams of thought when considering “wise use,” of our earthly  resources.  In one camp is preservation, in the other conservation. Both have a common goal of saving natural resources. However, each has a different perspective about how much of the various  resources get  used in the process of being saved.  Preservationists wish to save an area by restricting everything except viewing, including the sport of hunting, while conservationist wish to save it while allowing sustainable levels of animal  harvest.


When boiled down, it becomes a matter of hunting verses non-hunting.  Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to animosities and  environmental battles that can divide the two camps (hunters vs anti-hunters) that could better be served for saving more areas and wildlife in the long run, by joining forces to resist the more extractive factors that consume far more of our natural resources.  It would be a shame to lose natural resources to unlimited extraction industries, by diversions that divide and conquer. Such is the case, in a world unwilling to control its own human numbers,  that is  ever-increasing the need for yet  more consumption on a finite planet.

wolf energy

Moral fights about how many animals, or any at all that might get killed  is a diversion that works against the very fundamental natural resources being fought for.  On a planet with a limited carrying capacity, ups and downs of every natural resource is the law of nature.  Predator-prey relationships is the constant life and death struggle that defines existence, or not, for any species of plant or animal on this planet. Bottom line.   There is no escape from that condition.

Two bucks July 14_ 2008 below Island Bar 009

The interesting thing about having two camps on any  wild  river is that each has its own special beauty. And it would behoove us to visit each camp and appreciate the good qualities inherent in both, than to ravage one or the other. If we wish to save ourselves from ourselves, the challenge it to resist entrenchment and seek enchantment. The oxymoron of real magic in the land of enchantment, is the mystery that helps keep fantasy alive.  From mysticism to science, it is the carrot that keeps both going forward in pursuit of answers to the unknowable. Dream on with feet on the ground, or we will lose the very ground we stand on.

Wise-use is in the eye of the beholder, but the final results will be judged by nature.



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.

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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.

snake river oct 7-10, 2013 rh trip 174

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

When Nature Speaks, Are You Listening?

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Nature is like a radio station that has many channels. But to hear different flavored songs or messages you have to change the channel. Just because you don’t hear a  country  western song doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means you don’t hear it.  To do so, you simply must change the tuner to another location where it resides.

What you tune into is greatly influenced by where you live and what kind of distractions draw your attention.  Cities offer different stimulus than rural or country settings. Even global positioning, cultural differences, and political ideologies  can determine our perceptions of the world. But what they all have in common is that none of them can escape the umbrella of nature.  Those cultures that live closer to nature, often have  more compassion for it, as they can feel the changes and patterns of the elements from their simple mode of direct engagement with it.

Often the consumptive nature of industrial nations are so busy going about business they forget about their ecological impacts and footprints. They are too busy establishing  more walls around themselves and building an environment of isolation from nature.  When you can no longer feel something, it is easy to lose compassion for it.

Sometimes nature carries a big stick to let us know Mother Earth is the Whip Woman. When her children become too rambunctious, she uses discipline to rein them in.  Unfortunately, the club sometimes used comes in the form of a tsunami, earthquake, mudslide, volcano, tornado, or hurricane. Violent storms often deliver these various kinds of blows, and  are a wake-up call to those who survive the aftermath.  Lessons learned by the survivors  can help people make better choices about how to  build their dwellings and where to locate them for  the future. Even re-locating ravaged cities to safer zones can be improved when people pay close attention to natures language.

As Hurricane Sandy so rudely reminded us, we have ignored nature and the warnings of our own scientists for too long. Pay back for inattention is  punishing and terribly harsh.  Often ideological policies can be a signficant contributor to our impacts to nature. Some are more harmful to others, especially the ones that ignore or deny the science that lays out measurable evidence that is readily available to those who study and read nature.

The law of the land is not the same as the law of nature. Man made laws are placed to cover human endeavors. Nature’s law is totalitarian and inescapable.  When man’s law ignore nature’s, it  often leads to horrific  consequences.  Climate change is no longer debated, though the reasons for it still are. Is it just another random quirk of nature, or is global warming induced by man? When a majority of scientists from a consortium of disciplines with peer-reviewed evidence that contain the same message, continue to jump on the same band wagon, I want on, too. Contrarians are sometimes right, but the chances are not high enough for me to get on a wagon heading for the edge of the cliff.

When there is an elephant in the room, it would be prudent to pay attention to it, not pretend it isn’t there. It has big feet. They hurt when they land on you. That is, if you live to tell about it, anyway.

Everyone who is not a politician or pundit, seems to recoil and despise politics, but denying its influence is like denying science. Volunteered, willful  ignorance can have serious consequences.  Elephants mean business.  When humans have a chance to participate in a political process, it is important to take that community responsibility seriously and get in the game.  The players in a game, not the bystanders, determine the outcome of the game.

It does make a difference who you vote for.  Policy matters. Climate change, though pitifully ignored during the election campaigning, is a huge elephant ready to make a huge leap.  There is no more denial about our changing climate, though there still is denial about the science that overwhelmingly contains evidence to support that the change is man caused.  Ignoring the math and statistics that fuel the conclusion  the majority of our scientists are telling us, come with a huge price tag.  They could be wrong, as science is not about absolutes.   It is more about ever chasing truth and the pursuit of best case evidence. It only changes when the evidence changes. Pay attention.  The election is over, but the game isn’t.  Every day, dawn reveals a new horizon.  Watch nature. Follow the sun and bird chirp. Listen up.

Crossing The Eddyline


Until you have crossed an eddy line in some kind of boat without proper respect, you won’t appreciate the significance of an eddyline.  Without essential preparation and a skeptical anticipation before traversing that line where upstream and downstream current opposes each other, the inattentive consequence will land you in the water for a  sudden swim.  When negotiating an eddy turn,  the upstream current pushes at the front of your boat, while simultaneously the downstream current pushes on the back of it.  The differential between these two currents generates a powerful force which can spin a boat faster than the blink of an eye, and land you in the water just as fast.

Dancing aimlessly across a seemingly benign eddy fence can catch the uninitiated off guard, but soon  teaches a quick lesson never  to be quickly forgotten.  It is always the consequences of our mistakes, than the mundane routines of our  daily endeavors that make the most lasting impressions.   Boat stability or tippage is an experience something akin to the  difference between an easy trail ride and getting bucked off a horse.  The abrupt experience will be remembered much longer than the tame one.

Paying attention to eddylines is what life is all about.  We are always crossing them, always finding ourselves in various situations that contain conflicting currents.  Knowing which way to lean  before entering an eddyline is key to keeping your boat right side up.  Having a plan in the back of your mind, will increase the odds that you can keep your boat from getting flipped when unexpected circumstances surprise you. This fluid dynamic is a great metaphor for how we deal with any obstacle nature throws us during our time on the planet.

If you don’t know how to start a fire from scratch, then you better be sure to have matches and tinder in your back pack when entering the outdoors in bad weather.  Or, when entering a large forest in unfamiliar territory, you better have a compass, in case you get lost or turned around.  Anticipation is the key to survival. Just knowing which way to lean in a kayak when making an eddy turn can make all the difference between being upside down or right side up.

Life or death situations are often only a step away when  crossing the wrong eddyline and being ill prepared. Reading nature and properly interpreting her language, is the solution to recognizing ways to keep your boat afloat and nasty swims at bay. Like weather prognosticators who study the clouds, river people study water currents. Different clouds mean different things, just as do various currents found on any river. Paying attention to nature’s clues will help keep us from being clueless.

Learning from experience is the best teacher, The old saying  is true:  ” good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.” As it turns out,  experience isn’t so much  of what happens to people,  as it is really  more importantly about what people do  with whatever happens to them.

The best potential for  survival in any adventure or life path, is knowing how to be prepared for anything that might arise.  To refrain from doing anything out of fear of dying, is not really living.  Not crossing eddylines may be safe, but that leads only to a dull and boring life.  It reduces your chances of experiencing some of the lifes most exciting and cherished offerings. True balance is gained only by dancing on the edge. All eddylines of the world are the fulcrum for facilitating potential equilibrium.

If you want to keep your metphorical boat right side up,  pay attention to the eddyline of life  and anticipate which way to lean before crossing it.

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.

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.

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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.

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