Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Stones, Yuba Gap, September 6, 2005

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Annie Dillard, ­Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Chapter 7, Spring

“When I was quite young I fondly imagined that all foreign languages were codes for English. I thought that ‘hat,’ say, was the real and actual name of the thing, but the people in other countries, who obstinately persisted in speaking the code of their forefathers, might use the word ‘ibu,’ say, to designate not only the concept of hat, but the English word hat…. Each foreign language was a different code, I figured, and at school I would eventually be given the keys to unlock some of the most important codes’ systems. On the first day of my first French course, however, things rapidly took an entirely unexpected shape. I realized that I was going to have to learn speech all over again, word by word, one word at a time – and my dismay knew no bounds….

Some reputable scientists, even today, are not wholly satisfied with the notion that the song of birds is strictly and solely a territorial claim. It’s an important point. We’ve been on earth all these years and we still don’t know for certain why birds sing. We need someone to unlock the code to this foreign language and give us the key; we need a new Rosetta Stone. Or should we learn, as I had to, each new word one by one? ….Sometimes birdsong seems just like the garbled speech of infants. There is a certain age at which a child looks at you in all earnestness and delivers a long, pleased speech in all the true inflections of spoken English, but with not one recognizable syllable. There is no way you can tell the child that if language had been a melody, he had mastered it and done well, but that since it was in fact a sense, he had botched it utterly….

…we have been asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mocking bird on the chimney is singing. If the mocking bird were chirping to give us the long-sought formula for a unified field theory, the point would be only slightly less irrelevant. The real and proper question is: Why is it so beautiful? …Beauty itself is the language to which we have no key; it is the mute cipher, the cryptogram, the uncracked, unbroken code. And it could be that for beauty, as it turned out to be for French, that there is no key, that ‘oui’ will never make sense in our language but only in its own, and that we need to start all over again, on a new continent, learning the strange syllables one by one.”

I read that in the laundromat Friday as I waited for my clothes to finish the spin cycle and it has sat pounding around in my head since. It was a new Rosetta Stone for me for why I am doing what I am doing. I thought I understood the river pretty well since I’ve spent so much time with it - I started paddling down rivers when I was 13. But the more I see it from different angles, with different eyes than a paddler, the more I realize I am only understanding the river at the level of the infant who botches speech utterly. I have found that new continent right in my own backyard and am now spending my days trying to learn the strange syllables one by one.

Last night I picked up a book that I had borrowed from a friend long ago because I liked the title, yet I had never before opened it, The Secret Knowledge of Water, by Craig Childs. In bed before falling asleep I read the introduction. Craig Childs was in the Utah desert sleeping next to a flash flood bursting through a slot canyon. In the morning he heard human voices – a woman in her forties – questions posed – questions answered. He rounded a corner in anticipation of surprising the people only to find there was nobody there. Only water. “The voices were part of a complex language, a language that formed audible words as water tumbled over rocks, and one that carved sentences and stories into the stone walls that it passed. I would grow older with this language, tracing its meanings like working back through genealogy. I would study its parts, how different types of canyons varied their conversations. When there was no fluid, as was most often the case, with my hands on the water-carved walls I would read the language like some sort of seer.”

Twice in one week I stumbled upon people writing about the same language I have heard and not yet understood clearly. For a decade Craig Childs follow the source of that voice. He chose to study the language of the water in the desert because that’s where the water is strong and free. There are no dams or diversions muffling its voice. I have chosen a river that many consider to have the most complex plumbing system in the state, and possibly the entire country. I am excited to see where our language study paths cross.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Rhythms, Yuba Gap, September 7, 2005

Goodbye Beatriz

Goodbye Beatriz
Monday, December 19, 2005

Beatriz Terraza’s last Rio Grande article irritated me. At the end she nicely concludes that, 'I have come to see the river as something apart from my own narrow experiences with it – as a living, beautiful thing worth saving. I don’t know what my role in that task will be. But perhaps…seeing my own small place in the river’s web of connections among people is a good place to start.’ Great. It sounds wonderful. I wish more people would see that. But, I have the same feeling I do when I see a cheesy romantic comedy – like I’ve been manipulated and dealt a load of insincerity to go a long with it for the sake of being entertained and made to feel good. There was some conflict, an adventure ensues and at the end, everything works out so neatly and everyone is happy. It’s surface. It’s light and entertaining. It has no depth. It’s really what happens next which has the depth in both the cheesy movie and with Beatriz – the part starts where the story ends is where it starts to get interesting and real. But that’s the part that we’re not shown.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh with Ms. Beatriz. She has brought the river to the attention of many a Texan through her writing, and that is a lot, but I still feel that there needs to be more if she is to conclude her entire month long Rio Grande with a grand, nebulous statement such as, ‘Yup, it’s alive and yup, it’s beautiful. It’s worth saving after all!’ I’m alive. Occasionally I’ve been called beautiful. Should I be saved too?

Saved from what? You? Me? The United States? Mexico? Salt cedars? Its border designation? Pollution? Dams?

With her final statement she has turned her articles from a getting to know the river premise, a beautiful premise on its own, to a weak statement pointing a finger toward conservationism and environmentalism. In the end neither premise was met successfully.

Beatrice’s articles were centered around the people who make the river a central part of their lives. But the river itself took second stage. It seemed only a supporting character to the people she showcased. If she wanted to advocate river conservation, she did so poorly by centering on the people. Instead her writing became a month long personal interest story. We, in general as a nation, know so little about environmental facts and issues. This is largely in part due to the media turning a majority of the few environmental stories they do report into personal interest stories. Those are apparently more entertaining than facts. Beatriz thinks the river is alive and beautiful and is worthy of being saved. We all feel good. But who really cares?

If Beatriz’s aim was to get to know the river itself, she also failed. Instead she got to know some people along the river and their thoughts and feelings about it. I keep thinking back to when Beatriz sat by the river and could hear its voice but couldn’t understand what it was saying. Nowhere in her journalistic retelling of her story does she ever take the time to learn what it said herself. All of her experiences were mediated by someone else – border patrol, naturalists, farmers, park rangers, guides. But I really don’t believe that she has developed an idea of her own personal connection. If so, it’s never identified in her writing.

Before her conclusion, Beatriz includes a query from naturalist Roy Rodriguez, ‘…the main issue with the river is “do people find any value in it? Do we neglect the connection that we have with it?”’

Do we neglect the connection that we have with it?

This is where Beatriz should have signed off. Perhaps we just don’t understand that connection yet. And perhaps, as Beatriz showed me, perhaps primarily we don’t yet know how to go about establishing that connection in the first place.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Spaulding Reservoir

Dead, 2005

Dam Lurking

Dam Lurking
Sunday, December 11, 2005

The green gate at the entrance of the PG&E road to the Spaulding projects was closed. I parked my truck outside it, gathered my backpack and camera and began walking through the gate. A rectangular sign affixed to the gate told me not to trespass on the PG&E land. I continued walking. Another sign tacked to a tree read the same. I turned around and walked back through the gate the way I had come.

I decided to instead walk down the other fork in the road to the closed campground and boat ramp - through another gate that said that I was welcome to use PG&E lands. Welcome sounded better than trespassing. I figured that once I got to the reservoir I could just make my way along the bank to the dam and that way be in compliance with the signs.

I wandered along the gray stumps of trees lining the receded reservoir bank. Soon I discovered that my way to the dams was thwarted by treacherous looking cliffs and rock walls. But, across a small creek and up the hillside, I could see the PG&E road. I figured that if I climbed the hill to the road, I still wouldn’t technically be trespassing since I didn’t actually walk through the gate where the signs were posted to get there. Faulty logic – I know. I kept mollifying my worried mind that I was on National Forest land anyway, but this is something I had only heard through others and not confirmed myself.

I walked down the deserted road to where I had come last Saturday with the FERC Academy group and stood above Spaulding 1 looking across the dam. I could hear the metal guardrails and gates creak in the wind. Everything else was silent.

Things seemed much more ominous being there without a group or a guide. The tower on the dam and the barbed wire gate leading to a metal stairway seemed prison-like. I hesitated before making my way across the long expansive dam. My heart began to race and I felt acutely that I was not in a natural place. It felt wrong.

My goal was to confidently walk across the dam to the stairs on the far side that lead down the backside of the dam to the faucet that becomes the beginning of the South Yuba River below the reservoir. Then I was to confidently descend the stairs to the faucet. It looked like an easy thing to do last weekend. But having a better look at it today revealed a chain across a lower platform hovering above a ladder thrust into the dam wall that must be scaled to reach the lower staircases. Feeling like a criminal with my racing heart, I opted to stop slightly before reaching the chain. Scaling down a ladder on a dam is not high on my list of things to do. But what made me feel infinitely less comfortable thank thinking of descending that ladder was the knowledge that something like 500,000 acre-feet of water was pressing against the other side of the dam. Since the dam was constructed in the 1890’s, it would appear that the engineering was sound and the water wasn’t likely to come busting through, but logic has nothing to do with fear or anxiety.

Once I made the decision to not go all the way down, I turned abruptly and ascended the stairs with loud ringing steps until I reached the top panting. All I wanted to do was go back the way I had come and leave the reservoir. Once again I hesitated, but then I turned and continued to Spaulding 2 as I had planned.

Spaulding 2’s gates are open for the winter, but the water level is so low that it is dry on either side of the project. I walked across the metal grating with less unease than I flet on Spaulding 1. From the perspective of being underneath the gate doors, the dam gave the feel of being a great meat grinder. It’s a cold and violating looking structure. This is where the water spills into Jordan Creek to meet with the South Yuba during the spring runoff.

After spending time in the silence of the dams I felt depleted. I had no desire to continue to Spaulding 3. I made my way back across Spaulding 1 to the road. In my entire trek to the boat ramp and across the dams and back to my truck I came across no one. The silence and isolation of being on such an engineered landscape was an eerie experience. I longed for a friend. I even longed for a heated confrontation of a PG&E worker. I wanted anything to break the silence of that place.

As I walked back I wondered how reservoirs become such cherished recreation areas. This one provided no solace for me. This past summer I came to the reservoir for the first time for a bachelorette party. We took a boat ride across the water to a secluded campsite. Once there I climbed the bank to the kitchen area nestled within the trees. Never during the entire time I was there did I go down to the water until it was time to leave. I wanted nothing to do with that water which is unusual for me.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced reservoir waters before. Sometimes during the summer I have to work on Folsom Reservoir where the three forks of the American River empty. I don’t have a strong emotion aversion to it, but I also can’t say I like being there. It holds no draw for me, no connection, leaves no impression. I hear no voice of the river in the water. It’s like the water behind dams is silenced. It sits there quietly and obediently until it’s allowed to become itself once again if it makes it to the other side. Then the voice begins again.

Wall Holding Water

Wall Holding Water, 2005

Beatriz's Light Bulb

Beatriz's Light Bulb
Sunday, December 11, 2005

It’s Sunday Morning. I’ve been waiting all week for Beatriz’s latest Rio Grande adventure. She's already moved into Chihuahua, Mexico to a stretch of river called the ‘Forgotten River.’ I guess you need to cover ground quickly in a newspaper column.

The Rio Grande separates Chihuahua from Texas, and it seems to do it quite poignantly. The Rio Grande, like the South Yuba, is heavily plumbed. As the river passes through El Paso it all but disappears. Lining what once was a vibrant river are now ghost towns and salt cedars. The salt cedar can ‘guzzle up to 200 gallons of water a day.’ Mexico is allotted 60,000 acre-feet of water per year from the river but is not permitted to dam the river for agricultural use until the water reaches Coahuila where the Rio Conchos gives its water to the decimated Rio Grande. That’s over 300 miles of no water for agriculture.

Those numbers meant nothing to me until last Tuesday’s FERC Academy. 60,000af/yr seems like a big number… On average, the South Yuba receives 93,000af/yr. 85,000 of that comes within a few months during the spring runoff when Spaulding Reservoir can no longer contain all the water coming from the snowmelt and rains. This is when Spaulding Dam #2 spills. The remaining 9,000af/yr we get comes from the 1cfs faucet at the base of Spaulding 1. In other words, when we’re not getting spring runoff, we’re not getting much water and the majority of the water we do get comes within a very short window.

I can only assume that Mexico doesn’t get its 60,000af/yr in a nice, steady flow either. If they have no water most of the year and no way to hold it when it comes, there’s no way to sustain life – of either the river or the people. On top of that, they have the invasive salt cedars lining the banks hoarding what little water does flow. The people of Chihuahua got screwed. The results are impossible to miss.

It is here that Beatriz makes a connection: Nora-Naranjo Morse of Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico told her that ‘she has come to see the river as “a person, as alive.” She called it a “metaphor for our lives. ‘Cause when the water is ill, maybe we’re ill.”’ Beatriz considers, ‘Where the river is broken, so are the lives along it.’

But people remain living in this region of Mexico. Or if they’ve moved to the United States for more financial opportunities, many seem to return. Beatriz asked Lisset Saenz, a 17 year old living in Van Horn, Texas whether she prefers the United States or Mexico. Lisset said she is happier in Mexico, ‘There’s nothing to worry about here. Van Horn, everybody cares about what you have, and who has more things. Here, everybody is equal.’

This statement made by a 17 year old girl seems so utterly wise. The river is definitely ill, yet the people most affected by the disease are not the one’s who are ill; the society causing the illness in the river is the one appearing to be ill. We hoard things and we hoard the rivers for ourselves. In doing so, we’re far more destructive than the invasive salt cedars.

Seeing a destroyed river and the effects must feel devastating. Our water policies have not only destroyed rivers to this extreme in other countries, but in our own as well – and in California at that. The Owens River on the eastern side of the Sierra once sustained a vibrant community and fertile land until the entire river was diverted to sustain Los Angeles. There must be countless similarities between Chihuahua’s Rio Grande and the Owens Valley in California. These are both drastic examples leading to two river’s severe illness and death, in the case of the Owens River. At what point does a river start to become ill in the first place? Once it starts to become ill do we even have the ability to detect the illness anymore?

Two days after her bleak Mexico experience, Beatriz floated down the Rio Grande in a raft in Big Bend National Park. The river had become a river once again because of the Rio Grande’s confluence with the Rio Conchos. Marcos Paredes of the National Park Service was Beatriz’s guide. His major life decisions have been made in isolation on the river. He fears for its life, ‘What people have got to understand is how we are killing this river. And dead is dead…. There are values that we don’t traditionally look at that we should consider – solitude, quiet, dark skies. How far should we go to protect that?’ Paredes asked when the last time Beatriz went anywhere and did not see another person. Or has she ever? Beatriz replied without having to think about it: no.

I found her answer disheartening. How many people also have not? How can we protect those things Paredes asks about if people have not experienced the value of them? These are not things that can be reduced to monetary values such as the value of water converted to electricity or the value of water sold for agricultural or domestic use. These are the things of unquantifiable value that help heal societal illnesses. The same gap resurfaces…

Beatriz concludes her article: ‘By the end of the day…I am also changed in a way I never expected…. I never considered that this body of water…was a living thing that could die…. I long to return next year and float down other canyons, to savor the feeling I tasted so briefly… - that of being one with the river, of the water in my own body pulling like a magnet toward the river…. I long to see a day when we fix the problems with this river that has provided so much life.’

The light bulb has finally been turned on.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Hole, 2005

Rio de las Uvas?

Rio de las Uvas?
Fluency II (Usable Past)
Sunday, December 4, 2005

River, Interrupted. The dams literally interrupt the natural flow of the water. But, as I wrote about Deb, I realized acutely that there is something beyond this that gets interrupted as well - something that’s much more difficult to articulate. Again, I am up against a language barrier because the lexicon does not seem to exist to support it. I need to find a usable past to place myself in a greater context of the river. I have only experienced the river within the context of its structure in the beginning of the 21st century.

This morning I began reading about the history of the Yuba. Usable past gap number one occurred with the explanation of the origin of the name Yuba. Its naming has been forgotten, but a few theories remain. General Vallejo, in the Marysville Herald of August 1850, stated that during Captain Luis Arguello’s 1820 expedition the captain named it El Rio de las Uvas – the Grape River. In the Anglicization of the name it became ‘Yuba.’ Later that month in a letter to the editor, Johann Sutter disagreed with Vallejo by asserting that the river was named after the native group of people who lived in today’s Yuba City called the Yubu. But nobody remembers anymore. Regardless of the origin of the name, it appears we have a very short remembered history.

The Nisenan people who once lived here had been decimated by 1870. The Gold Rush wiped out the entire native oral history and culture and people of the river in about 20 years. By the turn of the 20th century, the South Yuba was already blocked by its first hydro-electro dam below what had been the confluence of the South Yuba River and Fordyce Creek, creating Spaulding Reservoir. This is the only history we remember. And what if we don’t have a usable history to follow and guide us? I suppose the only thing to do is create one. What was the river like before the dam was erected, before 1cfs was released from the bottom of the structure, before the miners dumped tailings in the water, and before entire hillsides were transformed into valleys by hydraulic mining? What did the river feel like when salmon and steelhead swam between the rocks? Did the river have the same voice then as it does now?

This morning I felt angry toward the gold miners. I scowled in the direction of Coloma where John Sutter discovered gold in 1848, and where I now teach kayaking in the summer. I thought about the historical landmarks scattered along Highway 49 through Marshall Gold Discovery Park that walk visitors through gold mining procedures. I had no idea that Coloma had been a Nisenan village until this morning. So had Nevada City. But our remembered history begins with the Gold Rush as if nothing existed before.

Frustrated I got on line to see what Dallas Morning News’s Beatriz Terrazas is up to with her Rio Grande story. As if to rub it in, she covered San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico. There the story is similar in that the Pueblo Indian’s lives changed dramatically with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500’s. ‘When the Spanish arrived in the Pueblos, they rounded up the people and took them to the river. Priests cut long branches from the cottonwoods, dipped them in the river, and christened the people into a new religion. The people rolled in the dirt, trying to remove what they had been christened with.’ The Spanish ‘killed a way of life.’ The miners killed an entire people.

The Pueblo people still have a usable history of the river. They have passed down the memory of it through generations. They still honor it and its connection with their past and present. ‘Water is a gateway so revered that the Pueblo people won’t discuss its religious meaning with outsiders. The secretiveness is their way of preserving long-held religious traditions, some of which still take place at the river.’ I certainly don’t blame them for wanting to protect the spirituality of the river by keeping it within their culture. Our culture has proven with our history to destroy all that is spiritual within the river.

Herman Agoyo, a tribe councilman and former tribal governor, was Beatriz and Erich’s guide through San Juan Pueblo. He shared his poem, ‘River Voice Card,’ with Beatriz. Part of it reads:

To us you are P’oekay (strong water)
You are the source of life and joy….
You are arayui (sacred water serpent).
You fed our sacred springs, ponds and wells.
Because of you Ohkay Owingeh (Village of Strong People) was born.
Because of you, we are still connected to our place of birth and emergence.

I will borrow this to begin to construct my usable history of the Yuba River. Thank you Beatriz and Herman Agoyo.

Beatriz concludes this Sunday’s account of her experiences asking, ‘Will I ever connect in a deep way to the river I knew growing up? …I have never explored any deep, personal emotion I might have for the river.’

Beatriz – you are beginning to construct your usable past of the river you grew up on. You are learning through other’s experiences and connections. You are placing yourself within its greater context – something that stretches beyond yourself. It’s a beginning. But when are you going to go to the river to construct your own story? Are you willing to go there yourself to hear what the river will tell you? Are you willing to go beyond being a journalist to tell your own story?

To the Faucet

To the Faucet, 2005


Faucet, 2005

FERC Academy II - Schematics

FERC Academy, Saturday, December 3, 2005

Two summers ago I spent a day swimming on the South Yuba with Matt after his friend Deb died kayaking Fordyce Creek. He wanted to go there to process her death and to connect with her through the river. I remember vividly him telling me that we probably touched water molecules that had touched her on the day she died. That thought somehow made sense to me and I found the idea of the connectedness we all have with each other and our natural world comforting.

Over a year later I joined a group called FERC Academy to learn about the physical, economic and political structures of the Yuba watershed in hopes of gaining insight into the convoluted procedures involving the relicensing of the South Yuba water projects and more importantly, about the river itself. The first stop on our first field excursion was to Spaulding Reservoir. A dam built in the 1890s separates the water from where Fordyce Creek empties into Spaulding Reservoir from the section of the South Yuba where Matt and I swam that summer day. We were given a packet that includes three pages of complicated diagrams with arrows and webs of lines that illustrate where the water comes from and where it goes and who controls it. It’s certainly not nature that does the controlling anymore.

It is required by FERC that 1cfs is released into the South Yuba at all times. We stood on the dam that separates the 74,773 AF of dark reservoir water on one side from the white spurt of 1cfs on the other. Steep metal stairs laced the rocks 275 feet down below to the riverbed, or more aptly described, the faucet. It is literally a valve that can be turned on and off manually at the base of the concrete structure. The river is a faucet.

Running next to the river (I use the term loosely) is a more generous allocation of water destined for either the Bear River or Deer Creek Power House via tunnels and canals. Bear River gets 5cfs, a whopping 4 more than the South Yuba, but the South Yuba Canal carries 126cfs to Deer Creek Power House.

The PG&E people fielded countless questions about who gets the water, who decides who gets the water and how much and when, what happens when the reservoir is full, when are the gates open…. I concluded that it’s all pretty much a clusterfuck that began in the 1890’s thanks to the Gold Rush. There is nothing natural about the way the water moves through the watershed. Some of it is for electricity, some for consumption, 1cfs for fish presumably. Most gets used in Nevada County, but some goes to Placer. NID (Nevada Irrigation District) is required to supply all necessary water and PG&E is, well, PG&E. The system is maxed out they said. But developments keep springing up and NID will have to continue to supply them as they come. This is the most complicated plumbing system in the area they admitted.

The group then caravanned to our second destination at Dutch Flat on the Bear River. To get there we needed to pass through yellow crime scene tape and a full encampment of search and rescue teams looking for a recently murdered woman who is believed to be buried in the area. Dead seemed to be the theme of the day. Dead river canyons, dead water and now another dead woman.

We stood on the dam by the dreary looking reservoir. Across the water, tubes shot straight down the hillside carrying water from as far away as the North Fork of the American River as well as Spaulding Reservoir. On the other side of the dam the water gushed out of a tube into a concrete canal. And so it all goes. More questions were fielded. Some were lost in the sound of the water blasting into a canal. Others were lost in the sound of passing search and rescue trucks.

I came back today overwhelmed with the thoughts of the daunting task of trying to comprehend what the river that I’ve been so involved with this past year actually is. It’s not what I thought it was. That comforting thought of the interconnectedness of things that I wanted to believe when I was at the river with Matt is false. We’ve engineered it away. The probability that those particular molecules that touched Deb had eventually made it into that sparse allotment of 1cfs is very slim. I feel betrayed, but by whom or what I don’t really know. My own idealism, perhaps?

Spaulding 2 Gates

Spaulding 2 Gates, 2005

FERC Academy I - Fluency

FERC Academy I - Fluency
Friday, December 2, 2005

The Yuba and Bear River watersheds are coming up for FERC relicensing. FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which licenses non-federal hydropower projects. SYRCL, American Rivers and the Natural Heritage Institute have implemented the FERC Academy to educate the likes of me who love our river but have no clue what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is and how it can affect rivers. I’ve missed the first two meetings so I still don’t really know much about the FERC.

When I signed up I was given a big binder with the handouts from the first two meetings. I had homework. Section one was a bunch of legal speak that explained what FERC does. I perused it and gleaned little insight into the subject since legal speak is a foreign language to most of us who are outside the legal world. I need a translator. The second section began with chapter sixteen of Jefferey E. Mount’s California Rivers and Streams – The Conflict Between Fluvial Process and Land Use, The Damming of California’s Rivers. I learned that 75 percent of California’s runoff is located north of Sacramento while 80 percent of the demand for that water is from south of Sacramento. This came as no surprise to me since the LA sprawl and San Francisco are both south of Sacramento. We have more than 1,200 nonfederal dams and 181 federal reservoirs that hold almost 60 percent of the annual runoff in California. More than 140 different aqueducts and canals relocate this water, 80 percent of which is consumed by agriculture. Urban residential use consumes a mere 10 percent. I also learned that almost half of the agricultural water is used for alfalfa, irrigated pasture, cotton and rice. These four uses represent only 10 percent of the total value of crops produced in the California. And not only that, but much of this water-guzzling agriculture takes place in arid climates. That seems like a big waste of water to me.

All of this was conveyed to me through a whole lot of numbers. In addition to not speaking legalese, I also don’t regularly converse in number talk. Numbers reduce things to such an abstract, practical form with no soul. I finished the article with a feeling that large amounts of water are being wasted on very insubstantial crops, all of the reservoirs we’ve constructed will eventually be rendered useless due to the disruption of sediment flows, and the riparian ecosystems are thrown completely out of whack due to our meddling, without any ability to grasp the scope of it. It’s depressing and heady and big. All of this information was communicated to me with science and numbers. This is the language that will be used to communicate with the legal faction who have the power to continue to alter the rivers, the language that is revered as the truth in our society. Where does this leave me who does not speak numbers, science or legalese?

Well, I’ve signed up to regularly attend meetings and field trips where I will be familiarized in all three languages regarding dams on the Yuba. It’s a start, but there was something that had to happen before I could ever conceive of attending those meetings in the first place. I needed a connection to rivers before being able to attain the stamina and desire to slog through languages reducing what I love to numbers, charts and graphs, and legal memos. I needed to be able to understand its language. I’ve been learning that through all the time I’ve spent in, on and around rivers. But what about other people who haven’t had much experience on rivers?

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in a suburb of Dallas, Texas – land of little water. The day I left an article in the Dallas Morning News caught my eye: ‘The Source: The Rio Grande exerts a powerful pull right from the start.’ Most of the socio-political issues associated with this river concern water rights, border violence and illegal immigration. But the purpose of the article was to highlight that there is something that goes way beyond the main news headlines concerning it. ‘And yet there has always been some other force I associate with the river, something I’ve never been able to name. Despite our best efforts, it seems to defy those of us who seek to unravel its mystery,’ writes Beatriz Terrazas, staff writer for the Dallas Morning News. She and photographer Erich Schlegel began a series of journeys in July along the 1,900 miles of river ‘in hopes of tapping into the mystery of the river’s call.’

This revelation is what people need to experience before the river is reduced to numbers and charts. This is the thing that needs to be remembered when the inevitable translation occurs. This is what is essential – the mystery, the soul, the spirit – whatever you want to call it, of the river. It is why I have spent years paddling rivers, countless hours alone in my studio painting the light and movement of rivers, and the reason why I endure ticks, poison oak and my destroyed knee to cover every inch of the South Yuba River I can with my camera in hand. This is why I am compelled to learn about the language of numbers and science that will be later translated into the legal language – a far disparate language from that of the river.

Beatriz’s article in the November 27th Lifestyles section was based on her trip to Creede, Colorado at the Continental Divide. Greg Coln, her guide, and his wife Delen have spent the past 20 years guiding on that stretch of the Rio Grande. They are intimately familiar with its character, changes and spirit. Delen describes her relationship to the river as, ‘…connected with our very blood flow, with the rhythm of our bodies and our minds.’ Greg explains, ‘It’s like somebody talking about their relationship with God or Jesus. It’s something you don’t know how to put into words. It’s just there. It’s real. And it’s a part of you.’

There is a reason that Greg says that trying to put his relationship with the river into words is as difficult as trying to explain a relationship with a higher power. It’s something that is beyond us. We can sense it, but it is not part of our lexicon to describe it. This, to me, signifies a problem. If it is not in our language, we, as a society have not yet begun to absorb it.

This morning I treated myself with indulging in lying in bed reading a book, At the Root of This Longing, by Carol Lee Flinders. On the page I left off, Flinders described the significance of the connection between the culture and rivers through an Indian story about Draupadi from the epic Mahabharata, ‘…and in the flow of her tears, her blood, her hair, and her garments are represented in the rivers of India, the land that’s said to be “river-mothered.” For Ganga, Jumna, Narmada, Sarasvati, and Kaveri are goddesses as well as rivers.’ In the Indian culture, the intangible relationships with our rivers has been incorporated directly into the spiritual vocabulary of the land. There is less of a language gap and therefore more of a natural acceptance and understanding of the important connection between people and rivers.

Beatriz sits on the bank and listens, ‘…the water murmurs in a way that mimics people’s talking. But I don’t know the language of this river… this river is a stranger I am just beginning to know.’ It’s because it is not the language we are taught in school. Nor is it the language that makes the political decisions. However, Beatriz, you are only partly on track. The water does not mimic people’s talking. Perhaps we instead mimic it. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking that removes ourselves as the center in which rivers and nature follow. We learn from the river, it does not learn from us. Be with the water longer, listen harder and you will begin to understand its language. This is the language we need to be fluent in before we can begin to translate it into the legal or scientific languages.

Spaulding 2 Under Flood Gates

Spaulding 2 Under Flood Gates, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005


Roots?, 2005

Place IV (Plant Terms)

Monday, November 07, 2005
Place IV (Plant Terms)

Scott flew to Asia last Tuesday. Halloween night I lay in my night still wearing fishnet stockings, a funky floor length dress and Mardi Gras beads. We stayed on the phone until we could no longer force ourselves awake.

About at the time we could barely function we started to talk a little about his trip. I asked if he had ever considered that to be able to feel grounded, perhaps it might be advantageous to stay in one place for a while. Grounded. Roots. Uprooting. We use plant terms for this sort of thing.

How can someone be grounded if they keep uprooting and traveling? Traveling fosters other things, but is being grounded one of them? I argued on the side of the negative. In fact, I started to gather momentum in my little speech to the point where words seemed to be coming out of my mouth without any input from my brain. I’m not even certain if Scott contributed anything at all to my diatribe. When I finished he only told me he needed to go to sleep.

The next morning I woke up a bit on the stressed side. I don’t believe that was the best tangent to go off on to someone who would be getting on a plane to travel for months by himself. I tried to bury the whole thing with yoga.

Yesterday I sat underneath a brilliant yellow tree having a pre-birthday brunch with Kim and Megan at Ike’s. Kim asked me how I felt about being back in town again. ‘I’m psyched!’ I told her. Then I thought about it for a moment and continued. ‘You know, I actually feel psyched too. I’m not just saying I’m psyched because intellectually I know I must be.’ And it’s true - I do feel it finally.

I’ve been trying to think about what it is that has made me feel it. I’m not really sure at this point. Before Scott left I started to put a lot of energy into developing some sort of somewhat regular routine. The regularity mostly consists of yoga a few mornings, but it’s a start. Things are going well in my studio. I like what I’m painting. It’s easier to walk in when I like what’s on the walls. The trees are changing colors in town. It’s still a novelty for me since I grew up in Southern California. I’ve been spending a lot of time with good friends who all live here. I’m not stressed about anything. I’m doing what I want to do everyday when I want to be doing it. In general, life is good. Life is good and I don’t want to be anywhere else. I feel grounded. I feel grounded and I don’t want to leave.

Other than the friends who are here, nothing is place specific. Place - that seems to be an external thing. Place. Sense of place. Connection to place? Is it even necessary? I want to be here now because of an internal peace. But I didn’t find that internal peace by remaining here.

A few days after Scott got on his plane I realized that I hadn’t really been speaking to him at all during my phone speech on becoming more like a plant. Instead it was a speech by me for me. I was trying to convince myself that I am happy because I am here. I needed to believe right then that to be grounded I need to stay here.

However, I don’t think that’s right at all. What’s closer to the truth perhaps is that I don’t need to stay here so therefore I’m grounded. I haven’t been living here since June. I’ve uprooted and moved around. But I feel grounded.

A new vocabulary needs to be put into play. Grounded. Roots. Uprooted. Plants are stationary. I have two legs. I move.

Root. Essence. Beginnings. Heart. Soul. Substance. Delve? Rummage? Explore.

Ground. Stuck? Stranded? Prevent? Familiarize. Establish. Inform. Inspire.

Plant. Settle. Scatter? Set out? Transplant? Start? Depart. Root.

Thanks to the Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus: Explore. Inspire. Depart. All are related to roots, grounding and plants. None of those words hold any requirement of remaining in one place. In fact, they seem to defy it.

Develop roots through exploring. Feel grounded by inspiring. And with plants and planting I get back to roots. Explore substance – heart soul and essence. Isn’t that what you set out to do by getting on the plane?


Self, 2005


Settled, 2005


Emerald, 2005


Ledge, 2005


Slide, 2005


Stem, 2005


Bolts, 2005

Cable Bridge

Cable Bridge, 2005

Green Strings

Green Strings, 2005


Bubbles, 2005

Brown Algae

Brown Algae, 2005


Whiskers, 2005


Rings, 2005


Ryan, 2005

Yuba Gap Take 3 (Dostoevsky)

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 6-7, 2005
Yuba Gap Take 3 (Dostoevsky)

You can’t see anything from a car… You’ve got to…walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.

---- Edward Abby

We stood beside our parked cars on the soft, pine needle covered strip of flat ground in front of my little abode otherwise known as the tool shed. “Hey! Have you seen this?” Scott asked pushing a button on his key chain. His Subie sprang to life seemingly on its own volition. The engine purred while, simultaneously, the entire car lurched forward – think Herbie the Love Bug. It abruptly ceased its forward progress after it had settled itself onto the small wooden barrier that separates my parking strip from the downward descent of the tree-strewn slope. In that lengthy moment I believed that our Yuba Gap, Take 3 had concluded there and then on my parking strip. But the car rested, now silently, on the wooden beam instead of hurtling itself into a tree. There was no need to call someone with a big truck and a winch: A good start indeed.

This time we borrowed packs with mesh and drain holes from Tym at Gold Rush. Everything was stuffed inside both packs, including my camera, which was nestled in a real Pelican case this time. We took the time to drive further up the dirt road past Washington to leave my truck parked a few miles up river at Canyon Creek (heeding Matt’s advice). And we brought wetsuits. Oh, yes – life-saving shortie farmer johns from work. (thanks, Dan!) We, I had to admit, were no longer looking so marginal this time.

We parked Scott’s car at Lang Crossing below Spaulding Reservoir. Scott insisted we bypass the ¼ mile from Take 2 and forgo that long, shady canyon. I balked, but in reality had no desire to revisit the location of the failed attempt of the week before. Hiking down a steep trail to a popular jumping spot called the Emerald Pools, we began our trek.

The pool 40 feet below where we stood was deep and green and, from last week, I knew – cold. Scott hucked his pack off the cliff. After a considerable time gap between lob and thud, it landed in the water below. He stood perched on the rocks for a very long time contemplating the jump. I, on the other hand needing no time for contemplation, hucked my pack off the cliff and began to scramble and slide as far down as I could get before needing to jump. I nearly made it all the way to the water. Scott jumped with a graceful quarter turn into the water. And so, we began swimming.

We hiked and climbed as much as possible to keep the cold swimming to a minimum until the sun began to go down and our ears and eyes became infested with gnats. Committing ourselves to one deep canyon after another, surrounded by granite and cold green water, we knew that we needed to find a flat section where the walls opened up before dark. I hesitated less and less before jumping, mostly because my pack would more than likely drift somewhere I didn’t want it to go – meaning I needed to spend more time in the cold water. Traversing the rock wall was a different story. I hesitated plenty when we needed to do that. It’s amazing how much less confidence I have when not attached to a colorful dynamic rope and harness and dropping into frigid water is the consequence of falling.

While it was still light, we found a beautiful beach that happened to be on the other side of the river than where we were standing. Luckily, wading across was easy enough. We peeled our wet clothed off, draped them across the rocks and made a cooking fire. Settling into the sand we ate freeze-dried macaroni and drank a bottle of red wine that we had transferred into water bottles with caps reinforced with duct tape.

Waking up in the clear morning next to Scott, I felt like I wanted to stay there forever. Nobody was anywhere near us. The place was ours alone. Somewhere in the distance – we couldn’t tell exactly from where – we could vaguely hear a train. We lingered under our joined sleeping bags until we started to get hungry and desperately needed to pee. I pulled on my shorts and my shoes and wandered around topless in the morning sun taking photos of algae and water while Scott cooked breakfast. We didn’t make any pretense of rushing to leave.

Our trek started out with more of the same – steep canyon walls, waterfalls and clear cold emerald pools of water. Nearing lunchtime we lobbed our bags off of yet another cliff face into the water, jumped in after them and swam to the other side. But this time the impact broke my camera lens. It would no longer focus.

We needed to keep moving because we didn’t know how much longer we needed to hike that day, nor did we know what time it was. We walked. We swam. We jumped. My knee started to give out.

The rocks began to turn from cliffs into boulders. No longer climbing, we jumped from one to another to another. Scott would stride, seemingly effortlessly to me, from one to the next with his long legs. I jumped, slid on my butt and lowered myself with my arms. This went on for hours, but it seemed as if that’s all we had ever been doing our entire lives. The gnats came and incessantly buzzed in our ears again as the sun began to lower. My knee got worse.

Scott found an old mining road that we hoped would free us from the rock hopping. It did for about 50 feet before it demoralizingly dead-ended into thick overgrown bushes that relentlessly grabbed my hair as I tried to charge through them with the hope that we could forever avoid another boulder hop by staying on the road. But it was not to be so. The only thing we could do was return to the river. I began to slip and fall a lot. My knee wouldn’t support me as I jumped. We both had the same thought – that we were going to spend another night out there, but this time we had no dinner and no wine. I was filled with guilt for having the faulty body that would cause such an unwanted night.

Again, Scott strode ahead as I plodded along, slower and slower. The darkening sky was streaked with orange. I raised my head when I heard Scott yell, triumphantly waving his arms and hollering. He had found a dirt road out. We had finished the crawl. At least that’s what I thought briefly.

Night came and we veered away from the river into the trees, stepping blindly through shadows. We continued slowly, he, with my pack hanging from his shoulders on his chest and his own on his back, supporting me with every protracted step. Time and distance was meaningless with nothing by which to measure either. It was dark time and we were walking. That’s all that was.

We were exhausted by the time we found my truck. Without saying much we peeled off our booties and downed warm cans of Hamm’s. Scott drove us back down the dirt road, through Washington, up to highway 20, and back to his car – away from my bed.

Even though this has been the greatest adventure on my forays on the Yuba, I feel reluctant to write in much detail about specific events or places. The idea of the place held so much mystery for me before experiencing it. I want to uphold that - it still holds much mystery. But for me the real story isn’t about the waterfalls, the jumps, the granite, the cold swims or my bum knee anyway. It’s about an internal shift beginning to occur. My connection to the river is deeper after going in there. I feel proud of it. It called the shots and I was humbled. Now I have a greater appreciation for it as its own entity and being. I belong to it; it doesn’t belong to me. And because of this, I love it. And, in teaching me about itself, it so generously taught me more about myself and about Scott.

We drove separately from the starting point of our trip back to highway 20. He was turning left to go back to Coloma for work the next morning and I was turning right to sleep late into the morning in my bed. I set my parking brake at the stop sign and hobbled from my truck to his car window to tell him what I had learned from the river. I stared at him with so much love, respect and admiration, but all the words got stuck somewhere deep in my chest. I stood there so long, as frozen as I had been a week earlier before my first jump into the water, that it became an awkward and ridiculous gesture. Turning around, frustrated and defeated by my own self, I limped back to my truck. I drove home thinking I once again let Dostoevsky down. In the entrance to my little tool shed abode I have taped a quote written in red marker to the wall, Much unhappiness has come into the world because of things left unsaid… Whether Dostoevsky was thinking most importantly of the unhappiness of the incapable sayer, or if his words benefit the intended recipient of those unsaid things mostly, or are meant only as an endorsement for the simplistic beauty and grace of clarity, I don’t know. But in this case it was I who drove away unhappy because I was too afraid or too incapable to divulge the things that seemed to become so clear to me crawling, on hands and knees on the Yuba, to the person who crawled the entire way with me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Hair, 2005

Not Marginal

Not Marginal, 2005

Yuba Gap Take 2 (Marginality)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Yuba Gap Take 2 (Marginality)

We woke up early in Coloma for the start of our next attempt at the Yuba Gap. As we drove to my place in Nevada City Scott asks, “Has Matt ever told you about the term ‘marginal’?” No, he hadn’t. The subsequent explanation referred to Team Marginal in Arcata and things such as roof racks holding many kayaks bungied to the top of a car – The set-up worked, but it was marginal. For the record, Matt is not a member of Team Marginal.

By the time we bought food for the two days, dropped my truck off in Washington, packed and called Matt to pick us up it was after 3pm. We lay impatiently on top of my bed waiting for him to arrive. Starting the trip that late in the day was marginal at best. Matt wanted to hike in with us part of the way. To me that was even more marginal. Banging my head against a wall repetitively sounded more appealing than doing anything with Matt and Scott together, as did reading volumes of Clement Greenberg’s theories on Modern Art or being subjected to endless loops of George W. Bush’s speeches.
Scott napped in the back seat and I began to nervously chatter about nothing as Matt drove us to below Spaulding reservoir. He wondered if we knew that going all the way to where we left the truck in Washington was a bad idea. I disagreed emphatically. He watched us unload our gear and stuff things haphazardly into dry bags with a crooked smile of amusement on his face. “Marginal,” he often repeated. Many times this declaration was accompanied by a shake of his head. Water bottles and things dangled from the outside of my bag, which I slung awkwardly across my shoulder. I needed to carry my camera case in one hand. Admittedly, our set-up was a bit more cumbersome than I had anticipated.

Clad in shorts, a light long underwear top, booties, and draped with gear, we headed over the rocks to the river. The first jump was from the rocks above into the water. Matt jumped first. He gasped as he surfaced. Then Scott threw his pack and watched it drift all the way across the river before jumping after it. His reaction was the same. I stood on the rocks, peering below, frozen in place. I had not wanted to admit to myself (or anyone else, for that matter) that my severe dislike of jumping from heights into water could be a serious hindrance to this particular trip. I threw my bag and my camera. I stood, filled with dread. They waited. I stood. The bag drifted across the river to where Scott’s had gone. They waited. Finally I jumped. The shock of the cold water was awful, but the relief of not being dead after jumping buffered the pain a bit.

We swam to the first waterfall, clambered onto the rocks before the lip, cold and dripping. The bags were tossed over. Matt took over the job of launching my bag for me. My water bottle broke off the pack as it hit the water. Each of us jumped in, me last of course, after the bags and pushed them across the pool to the next drop.

This time when we pulled our bodies out of the water we tried to hug all the warmth out of the rock wall. I opened my Otter Box to pull out my camera. The foam inside was drenched and, subsequently, so was the camera. We checked our dry bags holding our dry clothes. Nothing could any longer be considered dry.

We jumped again. We swam. We peered over the next drop into the canyon below – the long, shaded canyon with vertical walls that bent out of view too far away. Matt announced that this was the place of his departure. It was to be our point of no return. Matt was driving the car back to my place. I looked below. I looked at Scott. We both were shivering. I hated to admit defeat, but I agreed to hike out with Matt.

We slowly climbed up the rock wall and back to the car. We perhaps made it ¼ mile through the canyon on Take 2. Perhaps.

Matt drove us to my truck in Washington, welcoming me to Team Marginal. Scott went down a trail to retrieve the Hamm’s he had stashed in the river while Matt and I sat on the cobbled bank. I drank a warm beer, Matt puffed on one of his cornhusk fatty cigarettes spiced up with a little lavender while Scott joined some kids across the river on a rope swing. Matt and I sat in silence for a while. He watched Scott climb, jump and swim. Eventually, turning to me, he asked if I knew that they had lived together for a while in Arcata. Yes, I knew. I sat as still as I could, afraid to move, as he told me how happy he was that Scott and I had found each other. Never before had I felt such tenderness toward Matt than at that moment, sitting next to him as the sun set behind the ridge.


Stalactite, 2005


Swim, 2005


Tortoise, 2005


Fly, 2005

Yuba Gap Take 1

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Yuba Gap Take 1 (With the Moss and the Worms)

In the middle of the night I woke up with my nose running. Allergies, I hoped. In the morning I made calls to find someone to help us with shuttle for the Yuba Gap. It was convoluted. Shawn was to drive a leg of it, then Karen. Times were ambiguous. Scott needed to sell a car in Coloma.

My nose got worse. My head throbbed and it hurt to open my eyes. I called it off. We went to Nevada City and slept in my bed late into the next morning.

We hiked up the South Yuba trail from Purdon Crossing until we found a narrow, steep trail veering down the hill to the water. It was marked with a small blue lantern hanging from a branch. Long-term camps are set up along the river’s edge. Tibetan peace flags stretch between trees. Cairns dot the banks. Sheets and tapestries become fluttering summer walls. Smoke tendrils wind their way over them through the branches and into the sky, evidence of the people tucked into rock dwellings, although we rarely saw anyone.

I took my shirt off to cross the river in a deep green pool. I kept it off as we walked along the bank and it felt good. I never knew the name of the last rapid between Edwards to Purdon before it turns into busy water. I still don’t, but now the name would have no meaning. We dropped our packs at the bottom of the rapid, spread our wet clothes on the rocks and swam, with the current, against the current and across it, watching the rocks as we glide over them. It’s weightless like flight. We crouched in a warm water-filled granite basin until we found our bodies smattered with small black wriggling worms. We fled back into the current clinging to rocks as the water pulled its way past our bodies to rip away the worms.

We sit in the shade of boulders and eat our deli-bought sandwiches by the river. While paying for them, I had asked a woman who was ordering a sandwich at the other counter to sing a Barry White song. She did. She had a nice voice, although it was nothing like Barry White’s. Scott complained that I smelled like mustard.

Scott stretched out on the rocks and napped. I strode naked aside for my Chacos strapped to my feet through the once-rapid to take photos. Time means nothing. Mosquitoes caught in a web under a rock spread wings of iridescent rainbows. Small beards of green moss in the spaces between rocks are like fluid stalactites. They stop time. He wakes up as I come back. We swim. I take photos. He takes photos. We spread ourselves on warm granite. We curl into each other. The shadows change angles and the canyon swallows the light. I felt as if we were hundreds of miles from anyone instead of only a river bend away. I felt as if we had been there since the beginning of time with the moss and the worms. I felt like we would be there always stuck in the rocks with the fossilized crinoids. I felt perfect.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Pink, 2005


Rebar, 2005

Rock Wedge

Rock Wedge, 2005

Rock Curve

Rock Curve, 2005

49 Bridge

49 Bridge, 2005

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Flip Flops

Flip Flops, 2005


Self, 2005


Dive, 2005

Place III (Trinity)

Thursday, July 21, 2005
Place III (Trinity)

I’ve been home in Nevada City since late Tuesday night. This hasn’t happened since May, I think. I can’t even remember the last time I spent a full 24 hours here. What this means is that my summer life has kicked in and has been in full swing for a few months. I’ve been mostly living in a tent on the South Fork of the American River.

Earlier in the month I visited Scott at his tent at the Gold Rush camp. We scrambled over rocks to find a good perch by the water where we stayed well past dark. It’s been many years since I have sat there. The Gold Rush camp is now half of the old Mother Lode camp where I had first lived as a raft guide thirteen years ago. It’s the same place, but it feels so different now. Buildings and parking areas have popped up over the years. It has gone from the rustic place I once lived to parceled and organized rafting camps.

Coloma is the place that I have been coming back to for thirteen years. Returning there feels like the closest thing to coming back home. The smell is the first thing to hit me as I drop into the canyon. The land and water are so familiar and some of the people I’ve known since the beginning. The American holds memories from when I was a naïve 18 year old getting my first taste of the life of the river. It’s when I first got my feet really wet. But even so, I don’t ever feel compelled to photograph or write about the S. Fork American. Perhaps it’s because I already feel I know it so well.

Today I’m sitting on my computer in Nevada City. I started to edit photos I took weeks ago, but got distracted by sifting through a bunch of Scott’s CDs. I’m waiting for the clouds to clear so I can go to the river. But I don’t think they will. So I started to write. But after a paragraph I needed to pick up the phone to call Dan to see when it is I’m working again – 7 days in a row starting Saturday. Then I resumed writing, but after each paragraph I keep picking up the phone. I haven’t put in a new CD to see if silence would help.

I’m not entirely certain why it’s so hard for me to make art in the summer. It just is. I can’t focus.

I just picked up the phone to call Sarah.
I’ll be house sitting for her this weekend in Coloma.

A few weeks ago several friends and I went to the Tuolumne River to paddle. Beginning with the long bumpy drive down to the river, Noah offered countless facts about the river and land. He talked about it like he was speaking about family. I wanted to paddle near him so I could hear him talk. I don’t remember much of the specifics of what he said, just his tone of voice and the look on his face as he spoke. I wanted to absorb that.

Three days in Nevada City. I didn’t shop for food. It’s not long enough of a stay to justify it. I’m eating the reserves from my shelves and the remainder of the food from the cooler from camping. I’m halfway through the three days here and I’m already feeling restless. It’s strange since Tuesday night Scott and I just returned form the Trinity River. It’s not like I’ve been in any one place for any great length of time.

I picked up the phone to call Britta. Still no answer.

Scott took me to the North Fork of the Trinity River. We sat on the beach where he had slept every night when he was a river ranger. We filled our water bottles with sweet, cold spring water where the water gushed out of the rocks. The sun woke us up as the light crept down the canyon walls to the water. We swam up the river of his green paradise to lie on hot rocks in the sun. When we got hot we jumped into the swift current and were carried below to a big clear green pool. Then we would swim back up the river, ferrying and catching eddies to lie on the hot flat rocks again. It was a perfect day.

Where is my own paradise to share with him?

I’ve been sitting here for a while staring at the screen. But I can’t answer that question.


Rothko, 2005


Tangle, 2005


Stump, 2005

Squashed Stone

Squashed Stone, 2005


P O, 2005

Gold Green Blue

Gold Green Blue, 2005


Arc, 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I Am Pro Salmon...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Matt and I hadn’t spoken to each other since some time in May. Not that this is anything out of the ordinary for us. It’s been like that since we met last year. We planned to meet at Earth Song for an early lunch. He brought his boat. I brought my dirty laundry. Sometime during munching on ridiculously overpriced turkey pastrami sandwiches he asked if I would be interested in going to the 49 bridge to spend the day at the river. If so, he needed to meet with his paddling partners there so he could tell them that he wasn’t going to paddle. We could hike upstream from there. Spending the day at the river is much more appealing than laundry. So that’s how I arrived at the put-in in a skirt and flip-flops and no boat.

The guys arrived. ‘Where’s your boat?’ they asked. ‘I brought my laundry instead.’ I shuffled around by Matt’s car, conscious of my skirt, thinking of how I must have looked like an archetypal shuttle bunny, the one responsible for Matt not boating with them. This thought did not settle well with me.

Matt and I walked onto the bridge as the guys slid one by one into the water. One sat in an eddy chatting with three bikini–clad girls standing on a rock. We watched them silently follow the current down a few drops, becoming smaller and smaller, until they disappeared around a bend. I wished I were one of them. Then we continued across the bridge to the trail on the other side.

I’ve never known the South Yuba to be runnable at the end of June. The water is a brilliantly clear green. Wildflowers still cling to the hills. And I had no camera.

We hiked upstream for a while, ignoring multitudes of trails branching off to the river. Eventually Matt chose a trail and we descended through thickets of healthy green poison oak to the granite boulders of the river. I cursed my skirt as I awkwardly rock hopped and slid on my butt down to the river.

White granite rose steeply from the riverbed. I glanced at it briefly then turned to tell Matt how beautiful the spot we arrived at was. But the words never drifted past my lips. Instead I said, ‘Damn. You wasted no time!’ His shoes and shorts were already piled on a rock and I watched his naked white butt move as he headed for a large flat rock at the river’s edge. Momentarily his body was spread stomach down on a hot white rock. Unmoving and fully clothed, I stood where I was. Matt looked at me and said, ‘When did you become self conscious?’ ‘Two minutes ago,’ I replied. I didn’t move. ‘Don’t look at me. I’m not stripping for you.’ He turned away. I still wouldn’t move. Then it all seemed ridiculous to me. Who wants to be wearing a skirt at the river anyway?

We both sprawled on the sun-baked rock and watched little fish swim in the eddies. We talked about the hope of salmon coming back to the river some day. Years ago someone gave me a bumper sticker that says ‘I am Pro Salmon and I Vote.’ I thought it was funny like a cynical dig on more serious statements such as ‘I am Pro Choice and I Vote.’ I slapped it diagonally across the lid of my two-burner camp stove as my commentary on the tastiness of fish. But sitting naked on the rock I finally got it. The salmon belong there in the water by the white granite walls. They need to come back. It doesn’t feel right without them just as swimming in the river doesn’t feel right with clothes anymore. It feels empty.

I’m not a biologist. I’m not exactly an exhibitionist either. Hence, I can’t give any tangible support for either the salmon or for the absence of clothes as the way it should be. A few weeks ago I took my friend Colleen down the North Fork of the American River for her first time. At the beginning of the trip she commented that there’s something special about water that’s not dammed. She couldn’t say what it was, only that she could feel something different.

It feels alive.

The South Yuba has the Englebright and Spaulding dams, one above and one below. The river is squashed between walls of concrete and reservoir water. It’s regulated. The walls stop the fish. But this year, with all the rain, the river has been resisting its walls. This last week in June it still flows as a river instead of a series of swimming holes. It still has a voice, but it’s not as clear as undammed water. Perhaps clothes just get in the way of hearing it.

Eventually we relocated to another rock downstream from the first. It was further in the current and offered a better view downstream. As we sat there, three people hiked up the rocks and peered into the water. They looked down, gesticulating toward the water and each other. I wanted them to do something. I waited impatiently for something to happen.

Finally a girl in a bikini jumped. She swam to an eddy, but missed it and was swept over a rock and down a pour over. Her body disappeared, then re-emerged ten feet below. Her eyes were open wide and she was gasping for breath as she was swept past us. Both Matt and I lurched toward her a bit. It was an instinctual reaction. But, how are two naked people on a rock going to help a swimmer in the river? Then she swam strongly into an eddy on river left. With bruised legs, she crawled onto the dry rocks, hiked upstream, then she jumped again. She made it to her eddy the next time. Soon a guy followed her line down the pour over. He was calm as his body disappeared under water. He had obviously done that many times before. Effortlessly, he caught the same eddy, climbed up to the rocks above and jumped again.

Our sun was disappearing over the ridge. Matt and I climbed back over the rocks to our piled clothes. The three jumpers were high on a rock above us. We shouted hellos at each other. They were rafters they told us, and we: kayakers, we replied. So they offered for us to join them on their rock. They handed me their last beer from the cooler – the King of Beers - and a pipe was passed around.

Erin, Julie and Jeff all work for the same rafting company. Jeff grew up in Grass Valley. That’s why he was so comfortable in the river. He was showing the girls his river.

As we talked, Julie realized she knew who I was – the one who dislocated her knee salsa dancing, the kayaker. She admitted to feeling intimidated to meet me from what she had heard of me in Coloma. Oh, Coloma. I can’t escape it even at the South Yuba! Erin wanted to know if I was at the Coloma Club Friday. ‘Oh, please say you were there!’ she pleaded. I was not. I never made it past the River Shack across the street. I’m glad I met the three of them on the South Yuba instead of at the Bermuda Triangle of Marco’s, the River Shack, and the Coloma Club. It made our meeting seem more real and substantial to me. In Coloma they would have only been three more raft guides in the Bacchanalian soup of summer. Plus, it’s impossible to be intimidating to anyone while naked.

The five of us scrambled over rocks together to the trail, me in the back with my skirt pulled all the way up over my hips so I could jump unimpeded, and hiked out chatting amiably. The river was silver with the setting sun. We walked our separate ways to our cars and waved at each other enthusiastically. I’m looking forward to seeing them pushing rubber on the South Fork American as I sit in class II eddies explaining currents to my students. And of course, I’m sure we’ll meet again soon at the Coloma Club.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Surface 1

Surface 1, 2005

Friday, June 03, 2005

Place II

Place II (To Chris J. and Christopher (and Chris T. for being the first))
Friday, June 03, 2005

What happens when that wanderlust really does set in? The restlessness is here. The bitterness has begun. And I don’t know what to do about it.

For six months I have stayed. I have committed. I have loved this place.

After six months with one day’s notice to a friend I barely knew, I packed my bag, loaded my boats and drove north with a sense of urgency that was almost uncontainable. I needed to remind myself to not step so hard on the pedal as the pine trees of Nevada City abruptly changed to dry scrub down Highway 20. I glided, I flew; it was not driving – it was escaping silently with the wind.

For months it had been raining. The rivers in California were showing off in earnest. Perfect flows. And all I wanted to do was leave them all behind. I drove alone with the window down and my arm out the window to a place I hadn’t been to in over a decade to meet with people who would take me to a different place that I had never been – to a place where the water was running low; to a place I where I felt an apprehensive unease in visiting. I had the strong sense that I was trespassing where I was not quite wanted.

Hood River, Oregon has been on my mind for a while. The scenario was too similar to my first introduction to Nevada City for me to ignore it. Over the past few years I have been told by countless people that I should go to Hood River because I would love it. And like Nevada City, it took several years for me to follow those instructions. For this reason, I was apprehensive to go. I didn’t want the potential confusion of falling in love with it. I’m supposed to be in love with Nevada City.

In a whirlwind, week-long episode of recent extended phone conversations (now abruptly ended without warning – the voice I began to anticipate hearing has now been replaced by constant ingratiating busy signals), I had listened to detailed descriptions of the disdained 75 cent toll bridge spanning the Columbia River from Hood River to White Salmon, Washington; of the open landscape desired over closed ones such as Nevada City’s; of the White Salmon, Little White and Wind Rivers and their named rapids and runs; of the influx of water lovers – the kite boarders, wind surfers and kayakers – arriving for the summer; of a new sushi restaurant still being built that will probably have some real wasabi behind the counter at least for a little while. I listened carefully to the place being lovingly recreated for me over garbled wireless connections sometimes with yearning to see it myself and sometimes with irritated frustration because I, myself, do not have the desire to share something like the details of the bridge layout of Nevada County with someone over the phone. I realized I was jealous.

As I drove north I did not know if I would see the owner of the voice on the phone. I hadn’t informed him of my imminent arrival. Busy signals were, and still are, the only form of communication I receive. In Bend I learned he would not be there, producing simultaneous feelings of relief and disappointment. The voice would not be there in person to further shape my new experience of the place.

To my surprise, as soon as I saw that huge dam stifling the Columbia River at The Dalles, a different voice parked itself in my brain. This voice had named his second daughter after Celilo Falls, now silenced by the dams on the river. The owner of this voice had been compelled to swim the entire length of the Columbia to get to know it as intimately as possible. That dam made my jaw drop. The water behind it made me sputter unintelligibly. I am in awe of what you have done, Christopher.

The first voice was soon joined by a happier chattering voice that piped up every time we drove over the toll bridge – you’re right, it is a ridiculous bridge: it’s not paved, you can’t walk or ride a bike on it and you have to pay 75 cents every time you cross it. That voice kayaked the rivers draining into the Columbia with me, walked through town lodged in my brain, and had dinner in my head accompanied by an honest-to-god real jug band playing in a café where the Where the Wild Things Are monsters and Max dance on the wall above the booths.

Now I have caught a glimpse of the importance of this place to my resident voices in my head. It’s not something that I can describe with words. It’s one of those things that just is. I left with reluctance. This evening I returned to Nevada City craving both of those voices to some day step out of my head and return to me again in the real world. I miss hearing them. As I let the same CD replay over and over three or four times, barely being conscious of it, I thought about both of you. I now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the thoughts you have shared with me. This place has moved me too. Thank you both for drawing me there.

Next time I will bring my camera. And perhaps my bed and kitchen table…

Special thanks to Courtney and Orion for physically bringing me to this special place that I now have a HUGE crush on.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Edwards Crossing

Edwards Crossing, 2005

Leave Your Clothes Behind

Friday, May 20, 2005 Edwards Crossing After High Water

The last big storm that came through brought over 3.5 inches of rain. This caused the highest river flows of the year and the South Yuba peaked at 14,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) Wednesday night. That is a lot of water.

Unfortunately I had to work Thursday so I couldn’t go to the Yuba to see what was going on for myself. Instead I walked along the banks of the Lower American looking for suitable places to teach at 14,000 CFS. The Lower American, a typically slow river becomes wider and faster at that flow, but not particularly impressive. What was impressive, however, was the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River in Auburn.

The North Fork, a café au lait color, stomped through trees usually quite high on the banks. The Middle Fork had nothing of its usual deep green color. Instead it was black coffee crashing around a bend to form quite a formidable looking rapid leading right into a thicket of drowning trees. People were milling around on the roads and trails, cameras in hand, trying to capture the incredible force of water on film. The two rivers met like a diagram – black coffee running full force into café au lait. The two colors remained distinct for several hundred yards after they met before mingling together in turbulent waves and writhing boiling eddies. I must admit that I was severely disappointed to not be able to join the throngs of camera-toters on the road. It was a fascinating display of hydrology.

Saturday the South Yuba was still high, but it only reached about 5,000 CFS while I was there. I returned to the steep crinoid trail. The sluice box was no longer leaning against the tree where I last seen it. From the top of the trail high up on the road I could hear the river below. I began my descent, but soon my attention was caught by a tire firmly planted in Kenebec Creek below the trail. I veered off the trail and down the hill to check it out, then continued down to the river via the creek.

Quite suddenly the creek disappeared. There had been ample amounts of water collecting in small pools and pouring over rocks and then there was none. I couldn’t figure out where the water went. It was just suddenly gone. I walked further down the waterless creek and suddenly the water reappeared to the right of where the creek should have been. I followed that flow back up. All of the water was pouring out of a cave. Then I realized what must have happened to the water in the creek. That cave was the end of a hydraulic mining flume blasted through the hill in the 1800’s. The creek must have been flowing right over it and seeped through the roof of the tunnel.

Down at the river most of my access to the water was thwarted by brown water that had risen into the thickets of berry bushes and poison oak. I didn’t find much that interested me except for some old canning jars of peanut butter and jelly with rusted lids, a broken robin’s egg and piles of grasses and leaves suspended in tree branches high above the water – evidence of the river’s previous height. I collected empty Gatorade bottles and beer cans and shoved them in my backpack to take out.

Nearing the top of the trail on my way out I saw some movement further up on the side of the trail. As I got closer I saw that it was the same guy who had lugged the sluice box out of the canyon a week earlier. ‘Better weather today, eh?’ he offered. ‘Yup,’ I replied. ‘Lots of water.’ Then he resumed picking up garbage on the steep hillside and stuffing it into a bag. He’s not much of a talker. I felt better for having more than just an empty Splenda packet in my pocket this time.

I drove down to Edwards Crossing to see if I could get better river access there. The dirt road had a few cars parked off to the side, the owners presumably, on the bridge with camera in hand and cigarette in mouth, trying to capture the unusual amount of water in the river.

At the water large thickets of branches stripped of leaves scattered the banks like poorly formed tumbleweeds. It took me a while to realize that some of the tangles were poison oak, the bane of my river existence. I can’t find a good reason for the stuff to exist. It irritated me that the bushes hadn’t been completely eradicated by the river. Instead it was just made harder to identify.

I had expected to see more detritus stuffed in weird places by the high water. Much to my dismay, I found very little. Yet in several places, ribbons of different materials were woven into the leafless brambles like tinsel on discarded Christmas trees lying prone on suburban curbsides waiting to be picked up and hauled away.

Disappointed by the lack of displaced trash, I wandered to the rocks by the bridge to soak up the afternoon sun. Soon after I found a perfect spot by the roaring rapid I looked upstream where I had been. A small beach, previously empty, was occupied by a nude yoga practitioner - this one female - and a clothed observer. This, to me, is starting to represent Nevada City. Come to the South Yuba. Bring your yoga mat and leave your clothes behind.