By Janelle Eklund
Early 1970's. College years in Central Washington State. We didn't get our 'high' from drugs or alcohol. No, it came from the river. Rivers twined the campus becoming an extension of learning. Credit? Not in numbers but in experience. A few of my peers became my best friends, and unbeknownst to them, mentors that set the stage for my river journey of life. Michael, Carol and Pat.
Michael was the oarsman. He steered a steady rhythm, letting the river guide the path of the oar. His grey raft was dubbed Siddhartha. Siddhartha is the story of the spiritual journey of a young Indian man in the novel by Hermann Hesse. A quote from the book sums up the inner river spirit of Siddhartha: “He was taught by the river. Incessantly, he learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgment, without an opinion.”
Michaels story echoed the gentle being of Siddhartha with the launching of an annual Gourmet and Peace Float. Pat was also a gentle being, the professional photographer, capturing the beauty of plants and light of the early morning on rivers edge. Carol was my pygmy pal, 2" shorter than me at 4'11". She was my guiding light teaching me to enjoy the simple pleasures and treasures of each moment of each day. These were my river buddies. Many tranquil days we spent communing with the river, letting it's peace become part of us.
A few years later the Gulkana and Delta Rivers in the Copper River Basin took hold of my heart during work and play. Journal notes: 'The river spoke in a calming roar meandering in and out of deep green forests. It's mist rose flowing through valleys and secret trails. Electric golden leaves made silhouettes against a slate blue sky. What a night - so high it makes me feel nostalgic - memories of other rivers and times but joined as one. I was fascinated by the contrast in the river from one point to another. Calm and peaceful, then turns to a raging movement for eight miles until it calms itself again. What a tune the river plays! Like life's journey - sometimes calm, sometimes fearful, peaceful, beautiful, raging.'
These rivers encouraged me to seek and get to know the stories of other rivers - Tazlina, Tonsina, Copper, Slana, 40 mile, Matanuska, Tatshenshini. Their whispered tales and lessons gliding with the current. Rivers are one of the great teachers of life. The poem, Advice From a River by Ilan Shamir, says it well:
Go with the flow
Be thoughtful of those downstream
Slow down and meander
Follow the path of least resistance
for rapid success
Immerse yourself in nature,
sparkles of light dancing on water
Delight in life's adventures around every bend
Let difficulties stream away
Live simply and gracefully in Your own True Nature
moving, flowing, allowing
serene and on course
It takes time to carve the beauty of the canyon
Rough waters become smooth
Go around the obstacles
The beauty is in the journey!"
May the river always grace your spirit.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.