seems like anywhere i have ever called home or at least rested for a spell, has had a body of water that soothed my wondering soul. some water feature that i could pour my troubles, my dreams, my fears, and my grief into all to be transformed into healing and envisioning. i have been fortunate enough to find the source, the headwaters, of most of these (once i knew that was a thing i could go find).
in the town i grew up in there was the cottonwood river. we had many adolescent angst chats. it was a place that i would find refuge when i didn’t know where else to go. mostly it was a place where no one knew to look for me. one day i did stumble into a classmate there. we ran in totally different circles, but always seemed to have each other’s back where we did overlap. we were both, unknowingly, dealing with similar situations and agreed that the water was much better therapy than the school councilor.
the next river i remember looming large in my life is the so called missouri river….the mighty mo. it separates the kansas and missouri sides of kansas city, the city i have probably spent the most days of my life so far. once i learned how to get down to it, you couldn’t keep me away…and again a place no one thought to look for me. i have yelled, cried, screamed, loved, snacked, happy houred, biked along side, camped near, and dreamed by this river. i’ve watched it flood the city and farmland. i’ve seen it eerily low in drought. this week i went to this river’s headwaters, where 3 rivers become one, moving north before it heads south again towards the mississippi river before flowing into the sea.
knowing i was only an hour and a half to this river’s beginning, i knew i would go there before leaving this area, but i postponed it knowing it was going to be emotional, problematic, beautiful, nurturing, and troubling. that i would be troubling the waters sorta speak.
this is where louis and clark followed the river from st. louis. this is where they stole sacagawea, and so many other people and so many beings found their way to the extinction protection list. i looked up on the native lands app to see who’s land this was stolen from. they list: apsaalooke (crow), salish kootenai (flathead), and cheyenne. i have also seen that shoshone-bannock, niimpiiuu (nez perce), and a few smaller bands of these tribes (these sovereign nations) have moved through this land, and i am sure many many have since it is considered part of a major northern route through this continent.
this venture lead by these 2 men…well i have no words. i have no love or awe of their journey, or the corp of discovery. they fall into the same category as columbus for me. and if it were not for indigenous people helping them out, they probably would have had a much different report to give jeffferson. in-fact, as i was pulling into the headwater park, i was listening to a story on public radio about a guy who was 1/2 native and 1/2 anglo of some kind and became a translator for the corp because he knew the sign language of many of the native tribes, or so it is said. louis and clark loved him so much for his graceful gestures he used to translate that they had him give the report to jefferson. after his job with the corp of discovery was finished he bragged that he was so loved by the ”indians” and could communicate so well with them that we was going to return to 3 rivers and resume trapping with no fear of the local ”indians”. upon his return to 3 rivers area (the headwaters of the missouri river), we was captured and excuted by those same “indians”. poetic justice perchance?
the moment i stepped out of paco, the truck, i could feel that this was a special place, that this was an amazing gathering spot for so many beings. i could envision the bison, the elk, the bears, as i watched a herd of deer bounce through the prairie. then i think of the beaver. i imagine this land and how it must miss the beavers with their dams that would help retain water, thinning the trees, creating habitat for fish for the bears and the eagles and the cattail. that this place was so huge so abundant, so open that it had to be a regular place to gather, to stock up, to trade, to commune. i mean, it is where i would want to meet my pals after making it though a winter with my smaller more intimate clan. a place to run, to tend to orchards, to harvest in prep for the next season.
to be honest, i was in awe to be in such an amazing place, also broken hearted thinking about how the supposed discovery of this land by the corp led to so much violence to the people to the land to the water (i naturally tasted the water and it was already tasting of gas and industry even though it was more clear tham i have ever seen it in missouri). i found many places to sit and gaze at all the rivers and tributaries that flowed into this one mighty river, the mountain ranges that hold the snow that feeds these waterways. it is an amazing and powerful place.
all this brings me to land acknowledgments. i don’t usually do them. i agree that they are the least we, as white folks, can do. but if they are so important for us to do, why are they at the end of our ig, twitter, blog, facebook…posts? shouldn’t we lead with this information, this orientation, instead of some kind of institutional version of an endnote? land acknowledgements without actual change to our behavior is still just a form of feel good pc culture that doesn’t really do anything.
now before people get all pissed at me, i support anyone who is doing anything, and i have certainly not done enough. that being said, we could all do so much better. we must work towards some kind of meaningful reparations. that it wasn’t just stolen land, and genocide. that recreation as resource extraction is also a form of violation to the land and water, a disruption of a balance of life. i have been listening to and reading indigenous activists on how empty land acknowlegments from white people feel. and when i listen to podcasts and interviews with bipoc folks, and land acknowledgements (as well as language, gender expression, anything they want us to know before a discussion begins) starts the conversation. it isn’t just at the end in the show notes or a side topic to how they recreate in the out of doors.
those of us that find refuge and safety in spaces without walls. where we can see the sky and hear the wolves. where we can still find clean water to drink from a waterfall, find enough wild greens for a meal and a friendly ground to rest. where you can remember that it is natural to walk side by side with the deer and elk and even the wolf or coyote that finds YOU safe to walk beside. to look into the eyes of a lone antelope while on a lone run in the foothills. to swim and bathe in a cold mountain stream along with a rainbow trout jumping for that buggy lunch.
i have no real answers to these questions, mostly just more questions and a few ideas. but i can remember when i realized that i wasn’t out to recreate, i was out to commune. it was the day i was on a hike along an amazing river. it was suppose to take me to a specific waterfall where i was to return and complete a certain set of stats. instead i found a nice place to sit and watch the birds move up and down the river. i listened to a woodpecker while watching fish jump. i watched one tree wave at me, knowing that was my aunt saying sit, listen, breathe, be
there was nothing to check off a list. nothing to complete. no agenda. i sat for hours. i read. i listened. i took a nap. i watched the clouds and the rolls of the waves as the light shifted until the cool shift told me it was time to move again, and find something more than snacks to eat. my heart was full. my spirit cleansed. i could face another day. in other words, i felt for just a moment what it is to belong. to be with