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

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Best Trip Ever?


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Best trip ever?  I just got off a 6-day Owyhee River trip that I like to refer to as the Estrogen Express on Little Grand Canyon North. Being the only male in a party with three females, has its challenges. But fun!  In fact, so much fun, that one guest (I won’t mention your name here Terri) told me it was her best trip ever.  This is always a welcome but troubling thing for me to hear after the completion of any river trip that people have enjoyed so much.

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It is a bit embarrassing and I am tempted to fudge the truth a little and agree, but then what about all those other super trips in the past I have been on? Like the trip where I proposed marriage to my wife by scribbling with a stick on a magnificent sandbar in an outrageous canyonscape.  Once someone in my profession  gets nearly 40 years worth of trips behind them, that adds up to a lot of trips and happy times.  I would not like to discount any of those other great experiences, or rank them in any kind of order.  Minus a trip or two from hell, most of my experiences have been highly pleasurable. And I certainly would put this past one up their in the high level redline of the fun meter.

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In fact, despite getting occasionally ganged up on,  almost all female trips I have led have been a real hoot. That is, at least gaged by the soreness of my guts during the trip of belly laughs that almost took me rolling to the sand. Good humor adds so much to an adventure that it is easy to send them to the top ranking positions of how much fun one journey can be.  It almost makes me think perhaps all female (or mostly female) trips might be a good niche market to consider.  Although, it might lead to early insanity and is always a risk for potential  male ill-mind health.

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In essence, what is really  fun for me is to see the transformation that takes place between launch and take out, especially for those whom are on their first time on a river or a new one.   These ladies had all  been on other river trips, and two of them, on the Owyhee before. But each water level is never exactly the same,  so essentially a new river. Of course, the group dynamics were different, and fortunately a great mix of compatible personalities, so that adds significantly to the pleasure principle.

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And of course, for Misty, who was rowing the other raft and guides for us here at the Wapiti Clan, had not been on this waterway before. The low water conditions were a far different experience than the big water of the Salmon River that she is used to.  But, being good on the oars and reading water helped her to successfully make good runs.  The technical aspect of bony boulder garden rapids actually makes one  better on the sticks when they get back to larger volume rivers.  I’m sure she will soon appreciate it once the dust has settled and her memory kicks-in to help finesse a good route through the challenging rapids of the Salmon River.

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The entire experience of this trip reminded me of a passage in a book I had once read: “The Gulf Stream will flow through a straw provided the straw is aligned to the Gulf Stream, and not a cross purposes with it.”  …  “So now I always tell my students about the Gulf Stream: that what it means for us, for writers, is that we need to align ourselves with the river of the story, the river of the unconscious, of memory and sensibility, of our characters’ lives, which can then pour through us, the straw.”

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And so it is with a river experience. When we align ourselves with all the current, not only of the river, but everything else that flows between the canyon walls, we become the vessel through which it all pours. We can absorb all the juices that leaves a stain forever on our inner walls…and add that much more to the next time we dip that same straw into the flowing waters.  Fortunately, there are a lot of best trips ever,  soon to be, laying there in wait for another vessel to appreciate it once again. It is the way of the river and waters magic.

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The Number “One”

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Ember & Sugar Lightnin Crossing Jan 27, 2013 015

When we are younger, we often fail to pay attention to history and sometimes think we may have been one of the first person to have seen or experienced a certain place or event. Only later, as knowledge grows and more truth is revealed, do we learn that we are not as original that earlier we believed.

As I look back at my personal history and first time running various rivers that was brand new for me, I often wondered if anyone had done them before me. Having no good way to know the local history at the time, I could only guess.  My perception in some of the places I dared tread, my steps were first, aside from ancient man.  So,  it came as a bit of a let down when I learned that indeed there had been others, or sometimes many, that had beat me there before.  Even more surprising was by how much earlier they had trumped my time-line in the world.  It can make one feel like a meaningless rag being tumbling around in the giant “Time Machine”  with a zillion other rags, many of which had entered the machine long before you. So,  you just blend in with the group, barely indistinguishable, and a seemingly insignificant cog twirling about in immense and meaningless circles.


However, sometimes that step back you can take to re-examine your place in the world, despite the past and future, where you only account for the now, a new perspective can help give meaning to your “place.”  When you realize time is relative and it does not matter what happened before you were here,  or how many others did what you did, saw what you saw, discovered what you discovered, you can feel better  just knowing you are alive in the here and now.  It reveals your true significance.  What matters is you are in the present doing the doing  and being the being.

You can go places for the first time for you…and guess what? It is a first? Your first. It doesn’t really matter who went where or did what, the experiences you are having are relative only to you and how you perceive of them.

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Though, it does help knowing history from before your time, because it can enrich how you understand the forces that helped shape our world. It also gives you an advantage to build on them with your own version of reality and personal humanity.  The world really does revolve around you, just like it does for everyone else. Why? Because you are at the center of the universe, and it is everywhere. There is no place it isn’t, so you can always enjoy every place you go as being in the center of the all.  Any number divided by one, always gives itself as the answer.  But, it is only the number one that can render this result. Therefore, the number one is more significant than any other because it is reflected in all places. Remember, only you are number one, along with everyone else. So, take your stand proudly.


Happy Valentines Mother Nature.

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Fawn Wapshilla 2005 webshots 009


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Blue Canyon

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Spring Fever and all those “Others.”


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Winter has been hanging on, with occasional set backs as fickle storms sweep vast temperature changes across the landscape. Just when we think snow and ice is over, another storm follows a warming spell and turns everything white again.  However, our  last warming spell here in Riggins, made it feel like approaching spring is in the air.

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For the past few days ice has been coming down the river in bits and pieces.  It is like a giant parade with each chunk of ice a celebratory participator. Like many members in a band, they come in all sizes, shapes, forms, and textures. From trapezoidal to roundish, smooth to rough, opaque to clear; white to grey, large to small, all a tattered and scattered flotsam of commemoration for winter’s thaw.

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At a deeper level, it is a part of the river’s sinewy speech; an articulation of the sensorial non-human intelligences we humans share the planet with, rather we recognize it or not.  Often  us humans anthropomorphize events in the natural world. This muddys the water a little when we try to distinguish what those “others” really are. Even though, they still  do  have a stand alone sentience, irrespective of our unfathomable  understanding of them or attempt to explain what they are  in human terms.

Ember Manning Br Jan 6, 2013 004

Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences. So when I go out into the remote backcountry all by myself, I don’t feel lonely. Sensing all those “others” makes me appreciate that I am not the only thing that is  feeling the world. It makes me feel right at home, embraced by all those “others.”


When I see the bald eagle shift from scavenging shoreline ice for fish remains discarded by otters work and setting  to the hillside hunting for chukars, or shallow river water for upstream steelhead passage, I know spring is in the air.  Soon, all those “others” will also be coming out more and more. Ya Hoo! Spring Fever. Love it.


Otters won’t be the only ones playing in the water.


Don’t miss the boat, or raft in this case.

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Snaggletooth Pulling From the Jaws of Winter Thaw

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Things have changed overnight here in Riggins. The deep freeze of a high pressure for the last couple of weeks has taken temps from mid 20’s to mid 60’s today as I write.  So the following photo’s may be the last hold winter has on our banana belt nestled down here in the cradle of the canyonlands. Time will tell.

It just may not be long before snow turns to flow, and depending on how fast it comes off and into the Salmon River drainage will reveal what kind of cubic feet per second we get.  Sometimes the river can go from ice to high exciting flows, when such drastic changes take place.  Just enough to get the adrenalin pump sending shots of “I want to get out on the spunky river again”  through the veins. We shall soon see. Eyes wide open.

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What Will Be Your Round Dance With Nature In 2013?

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sunrise nov 28, 2012 003

As another year comes and goes, I am reminded yet again of the round dance in nature and the circular character of most everything we come to face with every day. You are as much at the center of the universe as anyone else is, due to the idea that the center of the cosmos is everywhere. Yet you are unique, too, just like everyone else, as paradoxical may it be.

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Some people will reflect back on the year gone past, and perhaps make new resolutions for the next full revolution our earth makes around the sun.  Our own human behavior seems to mimic that cyclic and circular way of nature. The sun, moon, stars, all seem to dance across the heavens in a circular path going around us every day. Up and down, around, all heavenly bodies move  under the illusion created by our earth, itself spinning around in a circle about an invisible axis.  Even the seasons are brought about by various positions of earth and the direction of tilt in its axis (i.e.- pointing toward the sun for summer, away from for winter).

Bird nests are round, eggs nearly so; birds are born, they die;  successive generations carry on the same tradition over and over again.  Rivers run to the ocean, rain comes back to replenish the mountains and future run off.  Predator-prey relationships merry-go-round in ups and downs in population numbers as each are affected by the other in a race for  dominance.

November 15 fish trip Scott Blalock 025

There seems to be no evidence in the universe for a final end to anything. Everything marches on, no beginning, no end. Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, say the physicists. All are one, say the philosophers.  We are caught up in and endless walk upon our blue dot of a planet through a cosmic warpville. Human kind is always seeking truth through religion or science, or both, or neither.  Through it all is power of place, where we receive our feelings of significance in an uncaring universe. For in our engagement with the landscape where all dancing takes place,  is our connections to everything else, and ourselves.  It is a round dance that spins meaning into our lives. After all, each place has a pattern and natural rhythm that sings forth its own song. It is a strong song to those who listen, really listen, and it affects even those who don’t listen. Heard or not, seen or not, the stone cast into the water makes a rippling wave  both in  sight and sound.   Such is the dynamic of natures music.

Ember Nov 2, 2012 chukar hunt 008

Everywhere we put our feet, from mountain top to river bottom, is our connection to that  special power of place and Motherearth potency. It is  where we can sing our own songs and deeply communicate with everything outside ourselves.  Every bush, rock, tree, bird, elk, fish, leaf, noise, wind, gurgle,  chirp, has its own language.  Even silence is the voice of the Great Mystery, say many of the primal people from time immemorial. Some times we see with our ears and  hear with our eyes.  All languages are different and can be interpreted in widely various ways, depending on how we perceive them.

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In reality, we are all primal in our human urges and have our own ways of communicating with the earth. Some are more harmful than others, and can become  a self-inflicted  wound as we round dance with our selves and forget about our partnering with nature.   “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves,” said Chief Seattle (or ghost writer, so some claim, though the message still rings true). So how we dance and carry on, is important for  the human scale in earthly matters.  We determine our own destiny through our human value system. Nature cares not what we do, as she always has the last dance.

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So my personal resolution for 2013 is to practice a lifestyle and dory dance with a softer imprint  and try not to step too harshly on natures toes in the process.  What kind of dance will you do?

Terri and Mike Sept 1st thru 3rd  2012 047

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