How to Love a River

By Madronna Holden

Updated April 2012.

Lower Chehalis elder Henry Cultee obtained his own long life from sharing it with the river his people named themselves for. Hum-m-m-ptulips, that river was, its name humming along on the tongue the way its rifles hummed along, so that it cleaned itself out in three days after a rain.

His elders had taught him to dive deeply in the river when its water was “alive”, when it was at its most powerful– and the greatest challenge to humans.

Cultee told me of a cousin who simply wet his hair to give the appearance of diving.  His elders might be fooled, but the river knew who really dived there.  His cousin passed to the other side many decades ago while Cultee lived on in concert with the land.

He was in his mid-eighties when I first met him and still living in season in his “fishing shack” on the Humptulips, tending and mending heavy nets on his own.    He was ninety-nine when I last went to see him. Then he had given up the heavy labor at his ancestral place on the Humptulips.  He was living with his son Richard on the Skokomish Reservation, where the only medication he took was an occasional aspirin-and where he and Richard had taken in two small boys.

“Here we are, bachelors with children”, Henry Cultee quipped.

“Wherever you found a river”, Cultee once told me, “There you found Indians”.

The fluidity of the river mapped the flow of the land, rather than the frozen north or south of paper maps-and certainly-rather than fence lines, which Cultee complained stopped the flow of natural life

To the Northwest’s river people the treaty promise of the US government:  “as long as the rivers shall run” was no fleeting thing-even if Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens wrote to his superiors, that as soon as the US gained more strength in this area, they would no longer have to honor the treaties they were making.

Indian peoples themselves soon learned that to the US government, treaties held “as long as the rivers shall run–or thirty days, whichever comes first”.

Richard Cultee’s Skokomish people had another joke:  “We knew the whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.”

It was no joke that Tacoma Power stopped up the entire north fork of the Skokomish River with a massive dam at Cushman to generate electricity.

That whole section of the  river didn’t run at all any longer.  Neither did the salmon, whose care was outlined in traditional Skokomish tales, which instructed the people to allow the salmon to release their eggs so as to perpetuate and strengthen the runs.

There wasn’t any advice in those old stories about how to help the salmon up a dry river bed.

But the Skokomish fought the dam that blockaded their river.  Recently they achieved a settlement with the Tacoma utility that it would release enough water from its turbines to allow the river to flow again.

There won’t automatically be salmon back on that water. The water flow comes all at once, in a steady blast from the turbines rather than in an ebb and flow.  But the Skokomish have visions for changing that too.

And someday they may be able to follow the injunctions in their ancient tale for caring for the salmon on their river again.  They have dreams about that:  and like the Chehalis who earned their long lives on the land in conjunction with the rivers, they plan on persisting.

So do the Takelma, represented by Takelma elder, Agnes Baker Pilgrim, who will conduct the second annual ceremony “honoring the water”-blessing the Willamette River-this coming Sunday, April 26 at the EWEB Plaza in Eugene, Oregon.  Grandma Aggie has international stature as chair of the International; Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. But she has local status with the salmon.

On her website Grandma Aggie conceives of her role as a “voice for the voiceless”-for all those things, that is, whom we have neglected because they may not speak in a human voice-or if they do, may speak only the language of the privileged.  In this sense she works to actualize a “democracy of all life” as East Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva has put it.

This phrase is an apt term to describe the “commons”- that natural life upon our own depends, no matter what our status in human society.

We are only now beginning to see what happens when we ignore the natural sources of our lives.

This is a lesson we would not have to learn the hard way if we had traditions of honoring the rivers in the way of the Takelma or Chehalis or Skokomish.

We might learn from the river instead.

There is nothing that can teach us more about the democracy of nature than a river.

And nothing that can teach us more about reciprocity and balance:  since what we put into the river ultimately comes back to us.

This is one tragic lesson in the current state of the Ganges River, sacred to millions, but one of the top ten most polluted rivers in the world whose flow is also threatened by global warming. Hindu ecofeminist Lina Gupta has analyzed how the idea of transcendence without reciprocity has led to the pollution of this river. There is a belief that the river is a goddess who can cleanse anything-and thus anything can be dumped into her with impunity.

It is the understanding of reciprocity and balance, Gupta writes, that is most dangerously missing from this perspective.  fortunately, since this essay was first posted here, the plight of the sacred Ganges has become a cause (cited in a news story in April 2012) for uniting Hindus and Muslims in cleaning this river.

Conceiving of the river as transcendent in this way implies that she never has to be cared for herself. Gupta argues that this attitude contradicts true Hindu belief about Dharmic (duty)  responsibility for one’s actions.  Gupta also ties this into the notion of dominance in the industrial world that denigrates the sources of nurturance that it designates as feminine-like the Mother Ganga.

Thus those who say they revere the river as transcendent can actually use this as an excuse to pollute it.

Global warming is currently affecting the glacier that feeds this river-and as its source dries up; millions downriver are affected by drought.  And the e.coli and heavy metal content from industrial pollution is directly affecting those who use this river as the source of their drinking water.

From a short-sighted human perspective, it might look like we can dump anything into our rivers and have it simply carried away.

But in fact, the river teaches reciprocity:  how what we dump there ultimately comes back to us.  It teaches karma, that is, in Hindu terms.

It also teaches another revered Hindu idea, according to Gupta: the idea that all is one.  In its flow it negates the modern industrial divisions between spirit and nature, humanity  and  the natural world.  When we pollute the rivers, we pollute our own bodies.

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, Grandma Aggie specifically requested that a sign be made for her blessing of the river that reads, “The river is not a garbage dump”.

Coming back to the question that began this essay– how do we love a river?

By caring for it, as have the Skokomish with the long court battle to free its water and as does the Chehalis River Council today.

By knowing it-following the example of the Corvallis Environmental Center’s mapping of the water quality in the Willamette River in conjunction with the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State. University.

By fighting its being bottled up in plastic and sent elsewhere, as are the Winnemem people currently defending their sacred McCloud River in Northern California.

By learning from rivers everywhere what they have to teach us about fostering the length of our lives on the land.

385 Responses

  1. How to love a river. This concept hits close to home for me as I have spent five seasons working on the Colorado River. The river is 47 degrees at Lee’s Ferry as it comes from the cold deeps of Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam. The Colorado, once muddy, red, and warm, was the native habitat for species such as the humpback chub and the razorback sucker. Now, the Colorado River is the perfect habitat for trout—cold, clear, and dam controlled. The gates of the dam were closed in ’63– just one of the Bureau of Reclamation’s many water projects created to “reclaim” wilderness areas for human use. It’s hard to fathom, while you’re floating silently down the Colorado River, that every drop of water is already spoken for by someone downstream. While we’re on the river, it is everything to us: transportation, drinking water, bath water, and a swimming pool when it’s a hundred degrees in the shade. I can’t imagine, though, diving deep into the strong currents of the river as Henry Cultee did, without a life jacket. So how do I love the river? By greeting it each morning with gratitude and the utmost respect. By sharing it with others, so that they may come to value the river and its protection as I do.

    • Hi Christine, thanks for your perspective on an important river to the survival of the entire West coast. I appreciate your touching personal point in response to this question. Lovely stance that if we indeed all shared, would make a profound difference in our world!

    • I recently married a woman who works for a non profit to take care of a watershed here in Massachusetts Rivers are important to us for all sorts of reasons they can change the course of your life in so many different ways.

      Christine, by chance you wouldnt be the same Christine I met in Flagstaff and later in Page several years ago would you? if so I hope your doing fantastic!

      • Rivers can indeed change the course of our lives (apt metaphor here), Josh–perhaps that is want they are meant to do– help set us on the right course in our lives.

  2. This particular writing is especially sad to me. My heart aches for the river; I regress to each fish from our seas and am thankful for the bountiful resource beef or organic beef provides. Imagine if we didn’t have our organic, domesticated animals to feed our exponentially exploding population. And despite what some may say, cattle, pigs and the like are intelligent and provide humankind with great amounts of food. Treated with dignity, they are a respected and thankful source of food.

    My heart understands what the river does for me and my neighbor, but I am uncomfortable with it. I use kerosene sometimes but I don’t know where that comes from. I am sorry for our rivers and glad that Aunt Ag is blessing them since they are in such sorry state.

    You state: We might learn from the river instead. Indeed, this is true, hopefully. The river cannot be held for too long and it is life giving. This is like us so how can we not learn from the river unless we are deaf?

    I send my daughter to find something in the kitchen or outside and when she return saying she can’t find it, I say Open Your Eyes! That is what I say to myself today. If we can’t or don’t respect water, then how can we say that we love our children?

    This was a good read; thank you.

    • Hi Tina, thanks for sharing a simple and profound perspective here. I like your last statement especially–there is so much for us to open our eyes to for the sake of our children. And so many ways, I think, that this can potentially expand our sense of presence in the world and thus the fullness of each of our lives.
      Your Aunt Ag has the courage of this vision–and the vision to be able to share her inspiration with others. I am blessed to have met her.
      And if my essay wasn’t clear, the Eugene Grandmothers are extending an open invitation to anyone who wants to come and participate in the second annual honoring of the Willamette River on April 26. (Your comment just gave me a chance to throw that in!).

  3. Are you kidding me? Of all things on this earth, rivers are at the core of my heart! I simply LOVE rivers and all they represent. My FAVORITE time of relaxation is lying next to a river and listening to the force, the power, the endlessness. It just keeps going and going and going. For this reason, the river represents life for me. It flows and flows and it cannot be stopped UNLESS we choose to stop it.

    “Wherever you found a river”, Cultee once told me, “There you found Indians”.

    The fluidity of the river mapped the flow of the land, rather than the frozen north or south of paper maps-and certainly-rather than fence lines, which Cultee complained stopped the flow of natural life”.

    It was very sad to read about the salmon being “STOPPED” because a blockage had occurred disrupting their natural passage in the river.

    In my eyes, the rivers were formed for specific important reasons in the reciprocirty of life. When man attempts to change this, nature is disrupted and it affects MORE than the immediate vision of vision.

    I loved the quote from The Top Ten Polluted Rivers in the World: “What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt – it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else”.

    What if we had this same committed attitude toward life and OUR WORLD?


    • Thanks for your comment and sharing your love of rivers here, Paul. I very much like what you found on this link about the top ten polluted rivers–and your conclusion about what we might learn from this in terms of our own sense of direction– and, I think, our own fit with the land.
      Gupta makes the additional point that the fact that the Ganges is so accepting ,makes her vulnerable to careless human behavior.

  4. Professor Holden,

    Even after the reading, I do not understand this response vs. other rivers???

    Gupta makes the additional point that the fact that the Ganges is so accepting ,makes her vulnerable to careless human behavior

    Why would the Ganges be any different than any other river when it comes to human involvement? What makes it unique to any river?

    I know you are very busy and active……..probably the most active the Professor I have at this stage, but, I want to learn more. Can you help me more with this comment and reference?

    I do not want to take up too much of your time, and, this reply is no hurry………….so, somewhere during the week is O.K.

    Thanks so much,


    • Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I am perfectly happy to clarify. I didn’t mean to imply that the Ganges was unique: just the opposite. All rivers are accepting and thus vulnerable in this particular way, since we can throw anything into them. What Gupta wanted to do (and I wanted to do, in citing here) was to understand the denigration of the Ganges in the seemingly paradoxical context in which it is both considered so holy and so mistreated…does that help or do you have something else you would like to clarify?

  5. The short-sightedness of humans evidenced in this article is disheartening. Just this morning I read another article ( that discussed the ways in which corporations have been dumping into our water supply for decades. As you mentioned, in the end our short-sightedness will always come back to haunt us. I wish that people would stop to think about the consequences of their actions. Creature comforts like electricity and bottled water offer convenience and comfort, but their effect on the environment is often the last thing people think about. I wish more people thought like Henry Cultee and Grandma Aggie – then there would be greater respect for the environment.

    • Hi Allison, thanks for your comment. It is sad indeed that those very rivers that might teach us the reciprocity of natural processes should be treated as something that can simply take the waste we produce away without our having to change our ways.
      At some point, we need to nudge our economic system into a place that rewards those who actually care for our environment rather than ravage it as in your link above.
      The elders who model ancient and profound ethics give each of us something to emulate– as Christine notes in her care and gratitude toward the Colorado River in the first comment to this essay.

    • Here is another issue, among the 271 million pounds of drugs released legally into the waterways by pharmaceutical industries are oral contraceptives. In Puerto Rico, where twenty six per cent of the economy is controlled by the pharmaceutical industry–and many of the pills containing female hormones are released into the water supply, there is an epidemic of premature thelarche (the breast development that usually happens with puberty) among girls aged six months to eight years!

  6. Growing up in an area surrounded by rivers I appreciate and respect them. They contain an unmeasurable about of power. Every year it seems like someone drowns because they assume the calm running water will be easy to swim.

    I found it interesting what you wrote about the Skokomish River. In the papers there would be tidbits about the controversy with the Tacoma utility, but I never knew they blocked the flow to such a major degree. Every winter on the news the Skokomish is the first area to flood and they always show the pictures of the fish swimming across the road. It must have turned into a swampy area without a good direct water flow.

    It is too bad to see all the pollution that runs in our waters and enters our rivers through various means. I can understand that Gupta sees this as hurting ourselves in the process. The idea of what we do to the planet we are doing to ourselves.
    Sometimes the saying of , “we know not what we do” applies to many of these stories, but it is used as an excuse to not care about what we do and not take responsibility for our actions.

    • Hi Ann. The Cushman dam blocked the important North Fork of the Skokomish, not the whole river. Thanks for the comment that allows me to clarify.
      As you imply, what Gupta says of the mistreatment of the Ganges is something that applies to the mistreatment of rivers everywhere.
      Not knowing what we do is something the result of denial: I find it interesting that the very rivers that taught lessons of interconnection and reciprocity to some brought no consciousness of this to others.
      I like Tina’s remark in this respect (the one she uses with her child): “trying opening your eyes”

  7. I just have a couple of questions concerning heavy metals. What makes a metal a heavy metal?

    In my bird class I was exploring the bat fatalities (and songbirds, hawks etc…) from wind turbines. In this conversation concerning unintended consequences a classmate shared with me that we might consider using old naval ships to construct the turbines. I had suggested we might use old vehicles, recycle them and create jobs. Are these ships leaching heavy metals into the ocean? I understand that soil is the great filter, so does soil filter heavy metals? If so, do the molecules or compounds in these metals attach to water molecules in the soil adding back to the hydrological cycle?

    • Hi Tina. I am not a chemist, so someone out can give more detailed better info, but my understanding is that a metal is called “heavy” because of its large atomic weight–which makes it very stable and not susceptible to breaking down into anything else unless there is something like a very hot fire involved– in which case some heavy metals only melt rather than break down.
      Though they don’t break down, they leach everywhere…so unless the lead from lead paint, for instance, is actually taken out of soil, it remains there. Fertile soil with lots of humus makes food plants likely to take this lead up. But in general, it is not a good idea to eat foods grown on soils with heavy metal contamination. Because heavy metals have such chemical density, they cannot easily be metabolized by our bodies. However, you can give children suffering lead poison “chelates” like pectin that spur the body to get rid of the lead.
      Some of the worst offenders proliferated into the environment through modern industrial processes are mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum, all of which have been implicated in endocrine disruption and nervous system disorders in every species tested.
      All told, I think putting any heavy metals– or things made from them– into the ocean is a bad idea.
      The best thing to do with these metals is to recapture and reuse these in the industrial processes that use them.
      And here are some basics in terms of our health visa vie heavy metals:
      1. Never cook any acid food (like tomato sauce) in an aluminum pan, as the aluminum will leach into the food. Canada outlawed a particular type of aluminum (not cast aluminum, which is more stable) cookware several years ago because of the implication of aluminum in Alzheimer’s. Brains of patients with this disease have concentrations of aluminum at their tangled synapses: we don’t know if this is environmentally caused, but I would say discretion is a good idea here. In like fashion, I wouldn’t think drinking soda (which has its own corrosive properties) from aluminum cans is such a great idea either.
      2. Check out the mercury content of fish (salmon is one of the cleanest of all fish- -wild salmon, that is, farmed salmon is something else again because of what the salmon are fed) before you ingest very much of it.
      3. Recycle fluorescent bulbs at special collection stations so that the mercury in them can be recycled (and kept out of landfills).
      4. Coal burning is one of the primary causes of mercury in the environment: one more reason (as if global warming is not enough) not to build more coal burning plants–and to phase out the ones we have.
      5. Older treated wood (before this formula became illegal perhaps five years ago) was injected with arsenic. Play structures with this kind of treated wood have had to be pulled out of parks and schools everywhere because of the health hazards to children. You should always use gloves in handling old treated wood– and I wouldn’t feel great about eating food grown in raised beds made of the stuff.
      5. Batteries (and especially car batteries) made with cadmium should always be handled with care and recycled.

      When I get the time, I will gather this and similar info into a basic safety sheet to put somewhere as a page on this site.
      Thanks for your comment, Tina.

  8. Oh, let me clarify. He stated that old fleets were sunk into the ocean. I wonder what the motivation for this is.

  9. It is so sad the way people feel about nature and all it’s wonderful gifts. I never quite understood how people could see something so beautiful such as a river or especially the ocean and just dump trash there. For me I have always wanted to preserve what is beautiful so that I and others may enjoy it again on a different occasion. I think of these places as special treasures that the divine has given us to enjoy and look after, so it would hurt me to do something that could potentially harm it. It’s so nice to see people who are dedicated to protecting these sacred treasures. If only everyone could see our natural world this way.

    • Thanks for your comment and your personal care for these treasures of the natural world, Kelli. It seems that some pollute these out of genuine acts of greed and others out of carelessness– by buying goods of corporations who dump pharmaceuticals into watercourses, for instance. Thus the issue is both personal (our individual choices) and systemic–linked to our economic and cultural processes. To care for our rivers and oceans, we must be aware on both levels.

  10. I find it so sad that people still don’t understand the implications of the water cycle fully and continue to dump various toxins into water supplies thinking that they will just be washed away. I seem to remember being taught about the whole cycle way back in basic science classes, and having that concept repeated, that rivers flow into oceans, oceans become clouds, clouds become rain/snow, and on and on. In nations like in India where they are taught a more transcendent view of the rivers purpose, it seems more inevitable that they might miss the implications of their actions, but here in the US, we are taught from a young age to know better… yet it really hasn’t sunk it.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Erin. The water cycle is also linked to local water tables, so that what we dump enters our groundwater as well.
      Gupta’s point is that it is actually the violation of Hindu beliefs– and greed and carelessness– that has led to the pollution of the Ganges. We may not have a transcendent notion of nature itself in the Western world, but we do have an otherworldly interpretation of heaven in Christianity, which can lead to the same dynamic in closing our eyes to the natural consequences of our actions.
      These issues are important to consider.

  11. Surely, we do not have to travel to India to know that people polluted rivers willingly. Also all of the most so-called “civilised” countries in the western world hold records of polluting river, because for decades it seemed to be the most convenient and beneficial method to get rid of all types of waste. Again the ideology of capitalism did not leave space for company policies that put waste disposal and recycling on their agenda. Nonetheless, many governments realized the importance of preserving rivers and enacted laws which aimed to persecute those who treat rivers as a garbage dump. Where wisdom and reason lack, strict laws have to be implemented whose adherence is to be regulated and observed by government agencies. If we could live without greed for one day and obligate ourselves to moral principles, a lot of tax payer money could be saved and our society would profit as a whole.

    • Your point is certainly one to ponder, Nick. We don’t have to travel to India to understand this — what is it, do you think, about the modern western worldview that makes us believe that we can dump in the rivers with impunity?

  12. That’s wonderful that the Skokomish were able to stop that dam and restore some flow to the river and all its inhabitants! I read recently that the Colorado River doesn’t even reach the ocean anymore and the life that depended on that water is suffering. I also just heard on NPR that bottle water sales declined for the first time ever this month. With our freshwater sources only accounting for less than 2% of the planets water, it seems we would be putting more effort into ensuring their survival (hence our survival!).

    The story of the Ganges River reminds me of when I was visiting the island of Kauai, Hawaii, and while there I spent part of a day at the island’s Hindu Monestary. I met someone who gave me a tour of the new temple they were building and I spoke with some of the builders too. These guys had beautiful, huge 20+ft long and 3ft wide hand-carved, stone pillars that they had shipped all the way from India to Hawaii for their temple. I was in awe of their beauty and the skill that went into making them but I was even more shocked at the idea of shipping that much weight across the world for a building.

    I asked the foreman how he felt about it and he said that since they were being used to build a place of worship,a holy place, the karmic affects of it were positive. I asked him how many people he thought the temple could have fed with the money and resources that were spent getting the pillars there. He said the temple would nurture their souls and that was more important. There are so many ways that we can justify the harm that we are doing to the planet.

    • Thoughtful post, Dazzia. I think we need to be careful in judging others, since there are so many more destructive ways to harm our earth than shipping (even very heavy) pillars. There is human air travel, which is both destructive of the ozone layer and contributes large amounts of carbon to our atmosphere. I’m not sure if the pillars were flown there, but coming by ship, they may have done less damage than a few average tourists flying over to visit. I don’t want to get into a hierarchy of destructive acts. The point I am getting at is that our critical stance can, I think, more effectively be leveled at ourselves rather than others–and as the world’s most egregious users of resources, our own changes can make a big impact.
      That said, I also think it is true that the idea of “transcendence”, when it becomes a license and an excuse not to be responsible for the here and now, has caused some real problems. Indeed, in speaking about the dangers of thinking we can throw something “away”, the concept of another world can be the ultimate “away” as an excuse for not dealing responsibly with creation. On balance, I have also seen those who have an other-worldly orientation exhibit a stance of humility and care for others that leads them to work for both social and environmental justice. These issues are not black and white– they call for critical assessment.
      Thanks for your comment!

  13. At first, it is the idea of human domination over the natural world. Nature is to be ruled by humanity and its sole purpose is to serve humankind. Secondly, as mentioned in prior posts financial benefits are given preference over the protection of nature. I would like to compare our situation to Plato’s “Allegory of the cave”. Clearly, the world we consider as real and especially the way we see it is a complete illusion. Therefore, most of us fail ton understand that environmental protection is not an obstacle to economic growth, but it might even stimulate economic growth and in the long run, we harm the economy by disrespecting nature. Behind us lies the witness stand of two presidential terms in office, where environmental matters were constantly undermined and the destruction of our planet was sold to us as an economic stimulus package.

    • Well said, Nick. Thanks for the perspective in this comment. I think it is especially problematic (and the data doesn’t bear it out) when environmental degradation is, as you have said “sold to us as an economic stimulus package”. In fact, a study posted on the “good jobs first” website perhaps three years ago indicated that those communities with the best jobs for workers were also those with the strictest environmental regulation.
      And of course, the ultimate failure of economic stimulus is the failure of the natural systems that support our lives.

  14. Living in the Northwest, we are lucky to be exposed to the beautiful outdoors every day, even if we do not give it a second thought. It is sad how we take this for granted. Somehow we do not connect our surroundings into our daily lives, and we fail to consider the effects of man on the earth. We separate humans from nature, forgetting that what we put into the land comes back to us. I think our society is beginning to realize this, and a sentence from this passage that expresses this, “We are only now beginning to see what happens when we ignore the natural sources of our lives” sums this up very well. I hope that we can keep moving in this direction, for the sake of our people, all living creatures, and the land that we share.

    Reading about the problems with the Ganges Rive makes us realize that this is not a problem we are just facing in Oregon and Washington, but people everywhere have had harmful affects on the environment. I hope our efforts to become more “green” and care more about the earth are successful, universal and can continue to encompass people worldwide.

  15. I have thought about this issue before. It really disturbs me that people are, in my opinion, close minded about their surrounding environment. I understand that it is a part of their religious beliefs that the river is devine, but it still doesn’t make sense to me that people can still ignore what is right in front of them. I personally don’t directly follow any specific religion, but to me rivers are sacred, especially those in the northwest. I found this great series of articles about steelhead fishing in the northwest, particularly Washington.

    The articles talk of ledgedary fly fishing on the skykomish river among others and the people that first began fly fishing there. I also found another article about river pollution in patagonia. When you look at the photo and relize that its actually water and not flowing lava, it made me nauseous. It toxic spill is linked to a wealthy family that owns the mine. The article states that the workers actually tried to not notify the authorities.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the links and the comments. The Skykomish River is on Puget Sound rather than the Olympic Penninsula. Beautiful area all around. It is certainly tragic when one wealthy family pollutes a natural treasure that so many rely upon.

  16. here is the site for the patagonia incident.

  17. The part where you discuss the hindu belief of Dharma and the treatment of the Ganges is such an interesting contrast. I’d always known that the Ganges was both seen as sacred and totally poluted, and I have always been confused as to why: if it’s so sacred, then why do you always see camera shots of people washing clothes and dumping stuff into it. Well, now I get it. How funny that they treat thier cleansing goddess with such disregard and they think it’s okay. If only that “cleansing river” thing actually worked! We’d never have a town dump, just a black hole that took all of our garbage.

    Also interesting is that the white race has shown the native people the worst part of our selfishness to get something for nothing. As long as it benefits us, we don’t care WHO is downstream. It reminds me of someone who blows thier leaves onto thier neighbor’s lawn without even noticing, because they only think of thier OWN yard’s cleanliness. The leaves are out of sight out of mind. I feel like the human race does this a lot when it comes to environmental issues. The garbage is taken to the dump: out of sight, out of mind…. but it’s still there. Where is our own sense of Dharma?

    Well written essay!

    • If only there were such an “away”, Josh! Or an infinite source of resources. For some time colonizing peoples have subscribed to the worldview in which both the away and the supply were in other people’s countries– and they had a right to dump and to lift these respectively. Perhaps we will finally notice that natural systems are independent and limited and deal with the consequences of our own actions. Our very survival depends on it.
      Interesting example in the leaves. We don’t tend to notice where what we don’t want goes– as along as it is away from us. But hey, if it were only leaves that someone blew over to my yard, I wouldn’t mind. I go scouting neighborhood leaves in the fall, since they are such great mulch.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  18. I really liked the phrase used in your article: “democracy of all life” . This elevates all life to a place of respect and gives it a voice.

    I wanted to share something that happened to me a while back having to do with rivers. I went to a place on the Santiam River here in Oregon where I heard there was good fishing. It turned out to be a lovely place with several bends in the river and plenty of trees and scenery all around. But while I was there with other people I started noticing all sorts of cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc. So I decided to do a clean up and I felt glad to do my part in cleaning it up. A few weeks later I returned and was shocked to see things litered much worse as if I had not done any clean up previously. Then while wading in the water to cool off I stumbled on a car tire in the river. Now I was really bummed. I still cannot imagine how anyone went to all the effort to drag a big old tire to the river, and what could have been possibly the purpose in the person’s mind who had done this??? This was very disheartening.

    I think of the future and how people must surely someday think back on our current times as very barbaric and crude to not care better for our environment and especially rivers. How long is it going to take, I wonder, for people to get smart and learn to love our beautiful rivers.

    Jim Jarrad

    • Thanks for sharing this, Jim. I hope you don’t feel that you caring for this area on the Santiam was unimportant– obviously there is much to do to change many mindsets. Can you imagine how those who came immediately after you felt when they came to the area you had just cleaned? And maybe– if you feel as did the indigenous people quoted here– the river itself felt?

  19. This article makes you want to go visit the Indian elders who clearly hold much wisdom about life. The dams which have changed so much in the lives of Indians and have changed the land and rivers so much that it is very startling. I appreciate learning how it was before these dams were around so that we can understand better their impact. It is great to hear that some of these are being removed. Our management of water supplies, and generating hydroelectric power are coming into better perspective in the 21 century. I hope to hear of continued better understanding of these issues and more compassion for rivers and all life.

    Thanks! Jim Jarrad

    • Hello again, Jim. I appreciate the follow up comment. I do feel immensely personally blessed to have worked with such wonderful elders.
      And anyone who is near Eugene is welcome to come to the Willamette River Blessing ceremony and experience some of the inspiration and energy of Grandma Aggie firsthand. And if you can’t get here, I will try to make time (after a May 1 article deadline) to post a write up of that ceremony here afterwards.
      Happy Earth Day!

  20. After reading this article I thought back to my house that sits over the river close to Island park in Eugene. When I was younger I would go out swimming in the rapids and enjoy the natural playground that it was. Yet over the short time Ive had with the river the place has mistreated and abused by the public. I know on several occasions when I have visited Ive ended up taking something out of the river, In one occasion, diving down and pulling out what was left of a bike. I dont understand why so many believe their trash will disappear if they leave it there. I only hope one day we can help heal the damage we have done to river, its the least we can do for all that we receive from it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kevin–and most of all, thanks for your energy in helping clean the river and right the actions of those who abuse it. We can all hope for healing in this respect. Perhaps some who dump their trash here don’t think about it even going away– maybe they don’t think at all. It is a curious thing how some have the impulse to defile something beautiful– perhaps they don’t want to understand either their responsibility or their place in the natural world that such beauty might call them to. I have sometimes pondered this with respect to those who seem to attack natural beauty with such a vengeance– it is almost as if they feel threatened by it.

  21. After reading this article as well the”Top Ten most *Polluted Rivers in the World”, I would like to say that as humans who need water to survive, without rivers, life will cease to exist. The idea of “democracy for all life” in my perspective is that when the rivers quit running, so do we. The accountability lies with each person. When I lived in Europe, I remember the Rhine River and how beautiful it was. All these rivers, no matter what continent we live on, are awesome! The only solution to the rivers as well as the environment is listening to the elders who knows the land as well as working together. And because it applies, I would like to add a quote from (the Bible)Proverbs 15:31 that I just looked at today, “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof; will dwell among the wise.”

    • Thanks for the comment, Tina. Great point about our need for rivers– these “top ten” polluted rivers effect millions of people. Rivers are awesome indeed-and just as we learn from elder cultures and elder human individuals, I think we can learn from the rivers which are, after all, our elders on this land as well, since they have been here longer than humans have.

  22. This article emphasizes the healthy dependence and admiration the Indians had for the river and it’s resources. I found the statement about “treaties being held as long as the rivers ran” very disturbing. Shortly after, the government dammed the river and the natural resources the people depended on so much. Growing up, the people told tales of how to care for the salmon by allowing them to release their eggs to strenthen the runs. Years of teaching about environmental respect were destroyed by the government’s actions and the Indians were left with no river to care for. Luckily, the Indians anger was heard and they achieved a settlement with the Tacoma utility to allow the river to flow again. While this is a step in the right direction, the damage has already been done and the salmon population had to suffer. If we continue to disrespect our natural resources like the previous example, we will be left with an irreversible world going in a downward spiral.

    • Hi Jason, thanks for your comment– thoughtful summary of historical events here. Time, as you indicate, to care for our world that gifts us with our lives to avoid an “irreversible downward spiral”.

  23. Reading this essay reminded me of my childhood. I practically grew up on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and have nothing but fond memories of walking to the river every day in the summer with my friends where we would swim, lie on the rocks and just enjoy the sounds and smells of nature. We are lucky here in ATL because the majority of our river banks are protected Nature Reserves so they haven’t suffered from development as many other rivers do. However, we do get our drinking water and hydro power from several dams that run along the river and daily water releases from the main Buford Dam have caused water levels to rise above most of the rocks I used to lay on during the summer. I can’t help but be grateful though because I know it’s not as bad as it could be.

    Despite my support for clean energy solutions, I am at a loss on where to stand on issues such as dams, wind turbines, solar power, etc… I took a class last semester on Salmon Management and being from the southeast, was quite surprised over the level of controversy in the west over the use of hydro-electric dams, their detriment to the environment and the extreme negative affects they have on the yearly salmon runs. It seems that this sort of controversy plagues every type of alternative “clean” energy we have. People today are so concerned about cleaning up the environment and getting away from the use of fossil fuels, etc… yet every time I turn around, there is another activist group fighting those same clean technologies because of how they affect the environment. Wind turbines kill the birds, dams kill the salmon runs and riparian habitats, solar power takes up too much space and “rapes” the desert, etc…

    To be able to love a river and harness it’s power and energy; I think the answer lies in moderation. This seems to be quite a challenge for humans. For us, it’s usually all or nothing which is how rivers get 4, 5, 12 + dams built on them and completely destroy the riparian habitats. Our rivers are renewable but only if we take care of them and not just take from them.

    BTW- I was surprised to see a picture of the exact place I spent my days on the “Hooch” as a kid on Wikipedia’s web page. If anyone is interested Google the Chattahoochee and click on Wikipedia’s link. The picture in Norcross is “my” part of the river.

    • Hi Allyson, thanks sharing your river! The example in ATL shows how economic, aesthetic, and environmental wins are interconnected.
      As to getting off our carbon excesses (and global warming), the one thing that no one should object to is reducing our usage. Large percentages of our energy are also lost in transporting it over long distances–and their transmission lines take up enormous amounts of space and are eyesores for sure. One place solar has been successfully used without harming any landscape is on rooftops: Germany (whose climate is as cloudy as ours in the Northwest) has just gone through an all out program to install urban solar. So has Sacramento: in such urban climates, harvesting solar is done with “reverse metering” which allows the homes generating electricity to sell it back to the local utilities when they generate excess. Better for the utility and the homeowner and the climate, since locally generated electricity doesn’t suffer the power line transmission issue.
      As for the other technologies, you are right about the all or nothing approach: such technology CAN be placed with respect for natural habitat– as in low head hydro with fish ladders and protected riparian habitat. Wind turbines are now situated away from known bird flyways (duh!) and the arms are being designed differently in an attempt to allow birds to fly by them more safely (and not to perch on them when they are not running so they aren’t in harms way when they start up again), and solar technology is shrinking the size of the technology and its silicon usage.
      Stanford University recently rated technologies according to their environmental friendliness, efficiency, and economic practicality and found coal, nuclear and biofuels on the list of the worst– and wind turbines at the top of the other list. But nothing is perfect, as you indicate–and we need to reduce consumption and transportation costs, as well as the general environmental footprint of whatever energy we use.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  24. This article really touches me. I have been living in the Northwest for me entire life. I’ve had homes in various places in both Washington and Oregon, all near wonderful bodies of water. A river, as stated in the article, does have life. It is a horrible thing just to pick it up and move it to fit your own needs. I have great respect for the natural existence and cycles of the river and its organisms. I am saddened that men moving rivers and redirecting water ways happens all too often. I understand a society attempting to move forward in industrialization, but there needs to be greater care for the environment involved. The earth is like a puzzle that has been laid out in such a way that is meant to stay, not for man to pick up a random piece and move it somewhere else where it doesn’t fit. Native people depended so much on the rivers we have moved or changed. Animals were lost in this transition as well. It is a sad occurrence for all of existence.

    • Thanks for your caring personal comment, Allie. I like the analogy of the earth’s being like a puzzle in which all the pieces need to fit– all the elements of ecosystems have grown up in concert with one another for millions of years, and it seems we both need to preserve and honor this “fit”.
      Good balance on the idea that we need to take greater care for the environment as we move forward– perhaps that part and parcel of the definition of any real advancement– that such care is involved.

  25. I am having a very difficult time understanding this essay. It’s very understandably that we fight for the things we love like in the case of the Skokomish Tribe vs. the Tacoma utility. However, I worry that a person’s love and subsequent selfishness for something like a river sacrifices others wellbeing. What I don’t understand is who this essay is attempting to make the villain. Is it the Tacoma utility or just industrialization in general?

    I don’t know why I have such a hard time identifying hydroelectric power generation as an evil doer attempting to do in the Native American’s way of life. Maybe, it’s because that electricity can go to schools, hospitals, streetlights, or to other things to make OUR community better. It can go to businesses where PEOPLE work so they can earn a little income to raise a family. The water from that dam can be regulated for irrigation for farmers so they can grow food for PEOPLE. It seems to me that to say that the wellbeing of the community as a whole is worth sacrificing so that a much MUCH smaller group of people can watch their property values increase by having riverfront real estate is a very selfish act. Of course here I am talking in extremes but the validity of the opposition’s argument must be analyzed in a cost-benefit manner.

    • Hello Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Perhaps your difficulty in understanding this essay is thinking that there IS a villain meant to be portrayed here. I am happy you couldn’t find one– since I did not mean to point one out–unless you want to call a particular way of thinking the villain.
      Nor do I think the issue here is gauging the needs of some against others, whether they be other people or other species. In fact, the agreement reached between the utility and Skokomish allowed for power generation AND return of the river flow– there is an essential balance here. In that all parts of natural systems are related, the careless use of technology (such as stopping up this river entirely) had repercussions not just for non-human species but for humans– in its effects on the water table, for instance.
      Few would argue that power generation does some good things: it also does some bad things (allow industries that use the majority of the water to pollute) and some wasteful things. The point is not whether power generation is per se good or bad– I think that few of us would want to do without electricity. Instead I want to raise the issue of the careless habit of mind that has led to polluting of rivers around the world. As water supplies decrease with increasing population, we cannot afford such carelessness– this is certainly not good for people.
      I have indicated in a few other responses to comments here that there are different kinds of dams: I am not implying all are bad.
      I also think it is not useful to think of the Skokomish as a small tribe winning legal rights over the larger society. I for one want to thank them for what they have done for a river that so many depend upon. This is true of indigenous environmental struggles everywhere: see this article here for an outline of such struggles:
      For instance, if not for the persistent legal struggle of a group of tribes in the Southwest, the Colorado River might be dried up in its natural course rather continuing to serve the large populations it does (though it still being drawn down year by year).
      Another type of deficient thinking that river pollution illustrates is short term rather than long term assessment. I wonder what you think of the Jain concept of theft as applied to the environment–that if we carelessly take too much for this generation, we are robbing the next.
      I want to thank you for sharing your personal responses to this essay, as it allows dialogue to take place concerning important issues!

  26. This is a very moving essay, and i believe that we should all treat the river the same as the Skokomish people. They more than just loved the river, it was a part of thier lives. It is upseting to see that we took this away from them, what they loved and cherished so much. We seem to be so blind by what we do to the environment and water or what we put in it. I wish i was able to see what it was like as described in the beginning, i am sure it was a gorgeous river. I also wish i new why it was ever taken away in the first place?. i know they built a dam but what for?, where the water was going must not have been to important to us at the time we thought of course. And will probably prove to be a mistake.

    • Thanks for this comment,Christian. The dam was to create electricity for City of Tacoma: the new legal agreement allow them to continue to do this while also releasing enough water to allow the river to flow again. That is the good news. The bad news is the ways that humans continue to treat rivers all over the world.

  27. I thought this was a very sad and interesting article. Just as the name says, we as a society need to take lessons on how to love a river. It hits close to home. In my job as a planner in natural resource conservation, I sometimes see landowners who want to change a river or stream to fit their wants. We explain to them they cannot do that and try to give them advice on how to work with nature rather than fight it. Fortunately with permits they are not allowed to change the flow course. I just never understand why people want to fit mother nature to their wants instead of working with her. Rivers are so life giving and beautiful. If it were not for life giving streams and rivers, early settlers and native american people could not have survived than harsh conditions of the wilderness. I do not understand why now people do not want to take special take them, they are just as important now as they were then. Hopefully we can continue to clean up our river system along with preserving the natural rivers and streams we have left on earth.

    Thank you, great article,

    Troy Jonas

  28. Thanks for your thoughtful and caring comment, Troy. It is heartening to me that your work in natural resource conservation entails explaining how to work with the rivers instead of trying to bend them to human will. I do think that this is an inherent aspect of the Western worldview– the attempt to make nature adapt to us instead of vice versa. Rivers, as you point out, are both aesthetic treasures and the basis of our survival. What more could you ask of something to elicit our love for it?

  29. Excellent article. I find it absolutely amazing that this problem is pretty much worldwide. How have we, as civilized people, gone so long without caring about what happens to our rivers? I guess a lot of can be attributed to what we dump in the river is then someone else’s problem down stream. I work with a group here in NC that works to clean and protect the Eno River. This group is numerous, they have festivals and community event to help support conservation efforts for the river. Even with all this support the Eno River is still being dumped in and polluted. How is that possible? I hope we find a solution to this problem soon, for all rivers.

    • Thanks for sharing the information about the river you are caring for in NC, Timothy. You have hit the nail on the head with the point about “somebody else’s problem downstream”. We obviously need to change this attitude: I think you must certainly be having an effect, even if it is discouraging to see others still dumping and polluting. We really need to get across the ideas that rivers are the basis of our lives.

  30. I suppose we can blame this horrible problem on the motion of the river. As rivers flow away from us our ancestors must have thought “it’s moving away from us so there is no harm in throwing our garbage, our toxic waste, or whatever we want to disappear into it. It moves away not towards us, so this is OK.” Almost 20 years ago I had a friend who asked me to help her research Reynolds Aluminum where her grandfather’s property was. Everyone in her family all died of cancer; her grandfather, mother, aunt, brother and she was the last surviving one. This was on the Ohio River dividing Indiana from Kentucky. It’s something I wished I would have taken her up on. It seems we have always dumped into waterways thinking it’s NIMBY. As with anyone you love the answer IS to take care of it. You wouldn’t put anything harmful into the body of a loved one-why would you treat a river any other way?

    • Hi Pam, thanks for your thoughts. It is ironic that the very vitality of a river is that which causes some to pollute it. However, this view of “away” hasn’t swayed some with different worldviews from the modern western one to pollute.It sounds like your friend’s family lived in an area of “cancer cluster”– especially toxic areas throughout country whose toxins, as you indicate with the reference to NIMBY, eventually get into bodies of all humans. I like your analogy of taking care of a river’s body the same way we would take care of our own.

  31. “How to Love a River” brings up the interesting point about how Hindus treat their rivers. I wonder if it is their mentality, or just the fact that there are too many people and not enough arrangements for disposal of waste, or gathering water. There does seem to be some sort of disconnect going on there with the overly “transcendent” idea. It is wonderful to hear about dams being removed and life slowly coming back to a river. Maybe caring and perseverance CAN overcome man’s powerful rampage against life. Those who persevere are very patient, indeed.

    • Thoughtful question, Lesley. Gupta argues that it is a failure to fully appreciate the tenets of Hinduism that has led to polluting the Ganges: those who truly understand all is one would understand they are polluting all (including themselves) rather than expecting the Ganges to carry away their wastes. As for population, it is my understanding that industrial pollution is the main issue these days; however, it is also true that more and more people doing the wrong thing adds up. But one person doing the wrong thing can have quite an effect–as in the case of the salmon trap cited in Charles Wilkinson’s excellent history of water usage in the West. That trap destroyed an entire salmon run, since the salmon backed up in the pioneer trap could neither escape–nor be released by its owner once he recognized what was going on. Fortunately, good can also be multiplied, witness those few of the many, many today pointed out in the essay “how can you not plant a rose in wartime here”.

  32. In the Northwest and particularly here in Corvallis, the rivers hold much in their depths. The fish and waterfowl who live within them need to have a clean river. Over time it has been discovered that fertilizers and municipal waste, as well as industrial waste have polluted many rivers in this area. I would not feel comfortable swimming in the Willamette. Is there an organization monmitoring this river? It would be nice to see results in a local media form. This especially during the summer swimming season. How bad is our river?

    • Thanks for your question Ross. And to think the Willamette was once clean enough to drink as well as swim in. The Corvallis Environmental in conjunction with your university came out with a map of point source pollutions throughout the Willamette River basin; they may also keep abreast of fluctuating summer water quality. Give them a call and check it out.

  33. I really enjoyed Henry Cultees comment about the rivers marking the land instead of paper lines on a map. It does make a lot more sense and is realistic in terms because then property lines would move with the natural course of the river instead of humans trying to force the river to stay in one place.

    That is one thing that is different between the east and west portions of our country. Property lines in the east tend to be curvy and fluid following the natural boundaries of the land and water courses. Land divisions in the west are based upon square grids, paper lines on a map. I always thought that didn’t make as much sense.

    • Hi Julie, I hadn’t known that about eastern property lines. Thanks for sharing this bit of info and perspective. Carolyn Merchant, in her history of ecological changes with the coming of pilgrims in New England mentions that much of early farmland was the result of beaver meadows (which created the fertility desired by these farmers), so those curvy lines make even more sense in that context.

  34. Dr. Holden,
    I have just spent the last hour reading over your essays and I have only touched the surface. After each phrase I found I needed to stop and process the words. Powerful.

    I teach history and human geography at Rochester High School. One of my goals this summer was to set up a blog for my classes that would combine current events and our traditional course-related concepts to our local area, making it more “place-based.” In searching for some primary source material on the decline of strawberry fields in our area and the dangers of a monoculture, I came across your blog.

    WOW. The Chehalis elders, Berry, Merchant (I listen to her podcasts when I walk,) rivers, environmental ethics, Thelma Pederson…I was in heaven!

    Are you from this area? I couldn’t find a separate contact for you, so I apologize for writing on this thread.

    To make this on topic, though, I just finished re-reading Cadillac Desert and the chapter on the Columbia River. Last month my TAH grant group went to the Elwah River dam to learn more about all they are doing to prepare for the dams removals there. Fascinating.

    Thank you,
    Jan Watson, Rochester High School

    • Hi Jan, thank you for your touching feedback– and your obvious care for our shared earth. I have been so very lucky to have worked with such elders as I have quoted here throughout the Northwest. I currently teach at Oregon State University and live in Eugene (there is a contact in the “about” page here). My family is from Olympia and I still do spend some time in that area (you do mean Rochester, WA–yes?) I am so glad you are doing this work with your students!
      Please feel free to share (and of course, link) what you wish according to the requests I set out in the about page.
      Thank you again for your warm words. Our circle of care is often much larger than we might assume. I take heart in that!
      P.S. I would love to see the blog you have set up for your students–is up yet? Care to share the link?

  35. I think that the way that many people view the dumping and polluting of rivers (that we can dump anything into our rivers and it will simply be carried away-out of sight and out of mind) is closely related to how people view throwing out their garbage in municipal waste streams. Not many people stop to ponder the final resting place of our shiny black garbage bags and their contents when we place them at the edge of the sidewalk. Yet, the various chemicals and toxins that we throw out with our garbage end up in landfills, and those same toxins will end up in our groundwater through the process of leaching, eventually polluting our streams, rivers and lakes as well. So even if do not deliberately pollute rivers but physically dumping straight into them we end up essentially doing the same thing when we are not carefull about what we are throwing into the garbage can. These two streams, the literal one and the munical waste stream both can serve to teach us valuable lessons about balance and reciprocity in nature. What we put out there returns to us, no matter how much we wish to turn a blind eye to the fact of the matter.

    • Great reminder about the municipal waste “stream” as a river of garbage that eventually effects our waterways, Samantha. This is of course why changing our consumer habits– ceasing to buy things that cannot be thrown away and/or made with toxic materials is so important.

  36. This article has got me thinking. You drive down a highway, and see those signs that say “Adopted by ” . And by adopting the highway this organization or community is showing care for this particular stretch of road. How did we get things so backwards? The site ( even talks about not having to clean your stretch as the sponsorship pays for that. And I quote “This partnership extends our hospitality beyond the rockers on our front porch.” We have a partnership with the roads. . . Depressing.
    Not that I’m suggesting people adopt a river in this manner, it’s just that our care for the environment around us is so misplaced. And while I like smooth roads, I’d much rather have clean water and diverse ecosystems.

    • Very pointed contrast here, Joe. A partnership with asphalt over which co2 emitting engines travel. What better metaphor for our age. Let’s hope we develop both different modes of transport and a larger sense of partnership with the world around us soon. I’m with you in that I am not critiquing those who chose to spend volunteer energy cleaning up roads on behalf of those who travel through their neighborhoods, but….

  37. Since I love going out to the rivers, I often go to many rivers whenever I have time, and wherever I am.
    There are beutiful rivers in Japan, too, but unfortunately some similar problems with those that mentioned in this articles have been occurred there, too; such as pollution by companies and the garbage dump. The number of the signs of “This river is not a garbage dump.” are often seen at many location in Japan, too, and I think it is increasing.

    Also, it is a little different story, but another big problem is invasive fish species. Probably the most famous and big problems about invasive species are “Blackbass” and “Bluegill”. These species had brought into many different locations and keep increasing its population with destroying the original balance of ecosystem. Many studies showed these species were brought into these water by sport-fishing people and/or “fish lovers” who like to keep foreign fish species.

    I agree with the quote; when we pollute the river, we pollute our own bodies.
    Polluting the river, the environment around it, and destroying ecosystem of it will return to human sooner or later in my country. (or it’s already started…)
    I think I would like to suggest to my local people that it is important to think about global warming and other environmental issues such as air pollution of the world and whole Japan, of course, but they should turn eyes on to local more (like corvallis and/or studies by OSU) , to improve all these problems…

    • Thanks for sharing this information from the perspective of Japan, Miki. I am glad to know that “this river is not a garbage dump” signs are appearing there as well. An important response concerning local actions and values. I think we must always begin where we are. And though problems on a global level seem so overwhelming, the collection of all those local actions make up something very hopeful–they also assert strong communities, which strengthen our quality of life as well.

  38. What vast knowledge of the river Cultee and his people must hold. They lived for generations around the river and were able to sustain their way of life using nature as it was intended. They thought of the river as being alive so I cannot even begin to imagine how tragic it must have been to see part of their heritage simply disappear almost over night…all in the name of progress. I am optimistic that people are beginning to see that all of our actions towards nature are “coming back to us” and I am hopeful moving forward we will learn from our mistakes and our failed attempts to control our natural resources.

    I also wanted to express my admiration of Cultee and his son for taking in the boys. The idea of nurturing others is so important to me and the fact that these men took on the role of caregiver and nurturer is especially moving.

    • Thanks for you comment, Anedra. The term progress is certainly ironic under these conditions. Learning from our mistakes is a step toward real progress. And I agree that nurturing others is something for which these men should be respected.

  39. I am so impressed by the Skokomish’s ability to get Tacoma Power to run water back through the North fork of the Skokomish river. It goes to show the power that we can have as a group of people joining together to fight a cause. This is a unique article for me because my dad was just talking about the salmon not being as prosperous as they once were. We were going to go on a salmon fishing trip down the Elk River, but my dad said the salmon don’t run like they once did in the location he wanted to go. This brings this story close to home for me. The changes that we make to the world effect everyone and everything living in it.
    The many decades of destruction we have caused are starting to show and effect our health and our environment. It is only going to continue to get worse if we don’t start to change and make small differences in what we do.

    • Thanks for your support of the salmon– and point about the difference all of us can make when we join with one another. Certain salmon runs in the Northwest were already declining before the turn of the nineteenth century– misuse of such resources can show up very quickly and take a good deal of time to remedy. That is why, as you note, it is so important to change the actions that destroy such a wondrous natural resource.

  40. I think that these are great examples of reciprocity. Honoring and caring for the rivers, and I especially like the signage “not a garbage dump” So many times, it is the mentality of out of sight– out of mind. But as the water cylcle exists, all we put into our rivers, will come back to us or our children. We all live down river in this respect.

    It is sad how so many things are done to nature for the sake of convenience, want and greed. We need to stop doing that. Think about the rest of the eco system in which we co-exist.

    Culte and his son show a great quality of nurturing to care for those 2 boys. I think this is probably shows theri respect for nature, others and themselves.

  41. Sometimes I try and think of this planet as an enlarged version of human bodies. We have rivers that run through our own bodies, and when we are not concerned about the pollution we put in them, blockages are often formed which kill us. Our bodies are one complete unit, and what we do to one part can always affect the others. Anyone who has ever had cancer understands this. Lung cancer, breast cancer, or any other won’t necessarily be contained in that one area. It often spreads and sometimes takes over. Then the entire planet of the body is doomed.

    When we put clean, purified water into our bodies, along with healthy food sources, our bodies run well and sustain us. Just as we are made up mostly of water and cannot survive long without it, so the earth is, too. It is the one thing scientists look for on other planets to determine the potential of life there. If our rivers become so dirty that our planet’s immune system can no longer fight off the disease of pollution, the cancer that has already formed will likely take over the entire body of the planet. At this point, I believe our prognosis is poor. But I have hope that, with enough action, we can reverse this disease not by killing it with more poisons but rather by feeding it with the abundance of health the planet already manufactures.

    • Hi Staci. I very much like the vision you share here of healing the planet based on honoring its own resilience. Your idea about water in the body of persons and of the earth is very much like what Siletz Takelma elder “Grandma” Aggie Pilgrim Baker (chair of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers) said about water in a gathering of the Willamette Grandmother’s Circle at which she spoke last night!

  42. Living in Oregon you become so accustomed to being surrounded by rivers and being able to take full advantage of everything they have to offer. My parents actually live 2 houses from the Willamette River on the street they live on, and having the river so near us was a great blessing. You don’t realize how special the river becomes to you, until you see people “abusing” the river. People all the time would abuse the river, by polluting it, kids who sneak down to the river in the middle of the night, have parties and drink, with that taking place it would cause a great deal of pollution. What was once a “sacred” place is now filled with trash? It is very sad. But, if everyone would just do their part to protect and preserve our environment, especially our rivers then we would have very few problems when it comes to the pollution of our natural habitats. A river is a precious thing and should be preserved. A side note to this is that when my grandparents would come to visit from Mexico, the first place my grandpa would go would be down to the river near my parents’ house. He would go sit down by the river and listen to the water. He would also collect rocks with my 5 year old son, as a special thing for the two of them to do. He was just in “awe” over the rivers here, because in the village he lives in, in Mexico they don’t have precious rivers.

    • Thanks for this reminder about the preciousness of our rivers, Jose. Just because we are so blessed with rivers in this area, that is no reason to abuse them. Let’s hope we all learn this lesson.

  43. I believe we love a river basically by realizing, every action towards the river, good or bad, will eventually come back to affect us. If we fail to respect the river and its inhabitants, in the grand scheme we are only disrespecting ourselves; because rivers play such an important role in supporting our life. I remember when I used to live in Sacramento and floating the American River was a great way to avoid the summer swelter. Floating the river, you could see so many kids sinking their beer cans and littering everywhere; it would irritate me so bad. I feel the rivers, the trees and the many other aspects of nature; humans take their existence for granted and fail to give the appropriate appreciation. When we do this we are only affecting ourselves and should realize our actions before it is too late.

    • Thanks for the reminder about the ways our actions toward rivers come back to us, Matt. Your gratefulness to the river for what it gave you–and what rivers give all of us everywhere is something we need to return to if we hope to honor the water that we as well as rivers are made of.

  44. The population density near the Ganges River is very high. So many people that live there have not been taught anything about pollution and they have no idea what a poisoned river will do. A friend of mine spent time in Bangledesh years ago and was showing me photos of the streets. There was litter every where and it looked filthy. She said that they let the streets get dirty like that because every year it floods and the trash goes out to the river! It is just their philosophy of street cleaning over there. They don’t know any better! In America we have to clean up after a flood but in Bangledesh they are cleaned from the flood! I don’t know if this practice still goes on nor do I know if the flood waters receded to the Ganges but it seemed amazing to me that this went on.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelley. I would rather look at this situation as a parallel lesson for us in that we can idealize something in such a way that our actions ultimately destroy it.
      We have laden our own rivers with pollution as well– there is mercury in Dorena Reservoir as a result of old gold mining activity and parts of the Willamette River near the industrial section of Portland were so toxic they triggered superfund criteria for clean up funds. And though we might hide our own garbage in landfills, so much plastic has blown from our landfills into the ocean that there is now a floating plastic island in the ocean the size of Texas.
      I think self-reflection serves us better than critiques of others. I am sorry if my essay has led to the latter. Have you any ideas about self-reflection that might come from the ideas presented here– that might allow us to change our actions or become wiser in them?

  45. Native americans depended very heavily on the river they lived to for pelts, food, and spirituality. With all of todays medicines and diets that are supposed to make us live longer and healthier, maybe what we all need is a dive into a clear cool river to wash us of our sins and sickness.

  46. I was looking at only the obvious pollution such as deliberate trash on the streets for the natural flood waters to clean up. Our culture is sneaky with our pollution. Industrial pollution is far more toxic than trash in rivers. The common person does not observe where industry leaks poison into the streams. And I’m sure our culture produces more waste that does not dissolve back into natural systems since we consume massive amounts of stuff. Our culture does pollute lots more especially when one considers the pollution caused in other parts of the world on behalf of making products for us to consume (sneaky). And I may be think that having a few plastic bags floating from our landfills at a constant rate is not as obvious as the plastic that the flood waters that take away all at once. You really can’t fool Mother Nature. Pollution is pollution no mater how it gets there and what ever form it takes. Just hiding pollution will cause problems down the road. Eventually it will come back to haunt us and we need to find a way to rid the earth of toxins so they can never resurface again. I am unsure if this is possible though short of exporting containers of waste past our atmosphere into orbit. We need to stop combining chemicals that produce toxins. Most chemicals would be considered benign but when they are combined in a certain way with other chemicals they become toxins. I wonder if there are ways to uncombine these deadly combinations? We need to promote the precautionary principle or pollution will overtake our universe.

    • Thanks for clarifying this focus on pollution of rivers, Kelley. The only thing I would add is that I’m no sure most chemicals are benign– I think it depends on the class of chemicals we are talking about. Most pesticides, for instance, are engineered to be poisons and thus definitely not benign.
      You certainly have a point that we need to take into account combinations of chemicals and not just single ones in assessing their toxicity.
      And I like your point that pollution being pollution (whether we see it or not?) I appreciate your thoughtfulness response to my queries.

  47. I was raised in the Portland area and remember well when the Willamette River was being polluted with industrial waste diverted directly into the river from pipes hanging out of the riverbanks. Although environmental laws now prohibit that practice, it’s clear that industry has found a way to by pass those laws to some extent. PCB concentration in some areas of the river are high and, according to the Willamette Riverkeeper, the Willamette “currently violates temperature, bacteria and mercury standards”. One would think that, since the Willamette is the focus of so many different aspects of our lives here in the valley such as transportation and recreation, all would make extra effort to keep it clean and healthy. It only makes sense to protect the health of this resource as we would that of a family member.

    • Thank you for this reminder to those of us in the Willamette Valley that we need to protect and care for this river that is so central to our lives here, Susan. The Riverkeepers are a great group that one can support in doing this.

  48. For me it is crazy to think of what rivers represent and what they were compared to what they have become. Growing up in southern California, let’s just say there are not many rivers. I have two very distinct and different memories about rivers from how and where I was raised. The first is of the Colorado River in Arizona. We would go to the river with my parents when I was young and all I remember is pollution, boats, and drunks. This river could not be farther from the way it deserved to be. My second memory about rivers is the Rogue in southern Oregon. Though it is far from pure, this river is a happy place because I was still able to experience its “wildness.” The Rogue, to me, represents the balance and reciprocity that is described in this essay. For my admiration, respect, and gratitude, the Rogue gave me its beauty and adventure.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bree–and the comparison of these two rivers. The beleaguered Colorado River is so much drawn on for irrigation it dries up before it even ends its former course. This was once true of the Umatilla, but in cooperation with local groups, the Intertribal Fishing Commission has it running again–and reports are that what was once a trashed out river bed is now a source of care and pride in Pendleton. Things can change if we commit ourselves to this.

  49. This essay really touched me. I feel terrible that more people aren’t able to tell their stories to others so that their history could be spread throughout the world. Salmon is important for this tribe to live on and so was the river, when the white people took both away, they could no longer survive. It is really sad that we hear a lot of stories that have similar story lines, most of them include white people taking away from native people.

  50. “How do we love a river?” Just as it said in the article: By caring for it, knowing it, fighting for it, and learning from it. However, how can we convince others to do these things when not all others are aware of the significance of rivers? When not all are open to the facts that by dumping trash into the river, it won’t merely carry it away to where it will never be seen or heard from ever again? We must learn to respect the rivers and treat them as though we are to drink directly from them, for ultimately it may indeed end up in your water glass.

    To know that you are poisoning yourself by polluting rivers, might be the only way people will alter their careless ways when it comes to disposing their trash in a place they eventually learn will not carry it away, but rather carry it right back around to them. To know that you are affecting your own well-being is sadly the only way for most people to finally desire some change in their self-destructive actions. If only they could look beyond their own well-being and desire change not only for themselves, but for the animals with which we share the rivers. The creatures which we never seem to acknowledge when we look at a river some ignorantly see as a trash deposit.

    We must look at rivers as not merely a resource on which our health and lives depend, but as something much more: They are the homes of several different species, and still they are much more than that. They are part of this world and play a role just as every species and forest and mountain-range and ocean do. Every natural thing the earth has bared renders its own significance and plays a necessary role on this planet. A fact it seems most have disregarded.

    How do we even BEGIN to love a river? We must regard it for what it is; the significance its existence truly bares in our lives, in the lives of other animals who drink from it, feed from it, and even live in it; and ultimately the significance it bares in and of itself. We must regard a river as though it is truly living; as though it has a heart and soul. And THEN maybe we can begin to love a river.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cherisse. As for drinking from the river– it is sad to think that these Northwestern rivers had water that was drinkable prior to their being polluted over the last hundred and fifty years. You have an important point about interdependence of living systems and the river’s being alive.
      As for looking beyond our own well-being, as you mention– perhaps if we just truly looked at our own well being, we would notice how precious these sources of water are, as Jose indicates in his discussion of the rarity of rivers in the area of Mexico his family is from. Seeing the interdependence of our world, that is, might tell us that it is in our own well being to protect these rivers.
      Water shortages are current emerging throughout the globe. Our water supply is something we cannot afford to squander, not the least reason for this is the fact that our own bodies are mostly water.
      Time to truly honor ourselves and the living rivers that we absolutely need to sustain us.

  51. It really stood out to me in the beginning of this passage when it is described that a man at 99 years old only had to take an occasional aspirin for his medication. This circumstance translates to me that a healthy relationship with nature promotes a healthy relationship with our individual bodies. By extension, it is living proof that we do not need to medicate as we age. Also, it was so heart-wrenching to me to think about a dam and the degree of its’ effect, which completely goes under the radar when it is just so obvious. In efforts to fight against environmental degradation, I think we need to have more ceremonies such as this water honoring one. Although it may come as a surprise to many people, we will never be able to “out do nature” or “play God” or any of the other things that capitalistic societies are driven to do. Nature is ultimately the most mutually advantageous relationship we could be active in. Gupta is right; it is our duty!

    Thank you for the post!

    • You are welcome, Dana. Thanks for your response. I agree that we belong in nature, not above it (the attempt to get us there has only led to trouble). Ceremonies such as this remind us how very precious our rivers are: and we can never have too many of such reminders.

  52. My daughter and I walked to the river that we are fortunate enough to have flow through our land, today. After many weeks of rain but a couple of days of sun, the river was rushing and blue-green clear. Since there are so few humans that get a chance to go to this river, animal tracks were still evident all about: bear, bobcat, cougar, deer and skunk. We sat and watched a small frog sun bathe on a moss covered rock that periodically was splashed by the ebb and flow of the water. We even got to see it catch it’s lunch! How do you love a river? Sit by it. Be still by it. Listen to it. Be thankful for it.

  53. I can’t help but notice the effects of the people on a river back home where I grew up (ND). Growing up the river was always abundant and flowing, allowing much water recreation and fishing. In the last 10 years or so, the river seemed to be slowly drying up; some places only a foot or so deep. I couldn’t help but wonder, what is going on here. I asked my mom why our rivers are so dry and she said it was because further down the river, in more populated areas, they needed the river deeper to allow for many bigger barges to be able to get through. I always thought it was kinda unfair for us to have to lose out.

    • Urbaniism’s development seems unfair to the habitat of all those lives that depend on the river as well, Amber. Water will be the next scarce resource– far more than oil. Its scarcity already is a serious problems in many areas around the globe.

  54. It is interesting for me as I take different course that deal with the concept of dualism. I’m currently enrolled in a health and wellness class where we discuss the idea that science has broken down the body into parts and has completely ignored the mind/body connection. They feel that if they merely treat the symptoms, then they can cure the patient without any further need for understanding of how mind and body are connected. Just as the mind sometimes cannot heal itself without help from the body, the body sometimes cannot heal itself without help from the mind. Perhaps these men who outlived those who merely dipped their hair in the river had this deep internal feeling that kept them well. Those who merely dipped their hair knew in their own hearts what they had done, and rather than a feeling of wellness and triumph it was replaced by sorrow, fear, and guilt. All of these factors contribute to someone’s overall health. This story is absolutely based in medical fact, but I’m sure that the natives weren’t quite as concerned about the why as they were with the how. They just knew they would live better and longer lives if they could learn to love their river. We should not underestimate the negative health effects taking away such things can cause. I seriously doubt that during a board meeting about the new dam anyone asked the question of how the loss of their river may affect the mental health of these natives. We just see things in such a limited scope. we really do view the World as a child would, without understanding of how everything has a cause and effect.

    • Great perspective, Damien. It reminds me of the terrible grief suffered by local indigenous peoples at the flooding of their lands at Celilo and Grand Coulee.
      And I think there is an essential perspective on healing (holism) in your comment as well.

  55. The river in the Earth is like the blood in the human body. It is important and it means that the Earth is still alive. However, economy and industry do not pay attention to conserving the rivers as essential part of the Earth. They care more about how to raise their economy. So they should read this article which is really amazing to learn how to love rivers.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Duaa. I think you have the key point in the contrast between a caring and non-caring way of looking at our rivers–without which none of us would survive.

  56. How do we love the river? We be careful about what we put into it and take out of it, we care for it’s fish and other tiny organisms that live in it as well. The quote “But in fact, the river teaches reciprocity: how what we dump there ultimately comes back to us. It teaches karma, that is, in Hindu terms.” I like the idea of if we treat our natural resources well then they will treat us well in return. If most people thought of it in these terms, then I think we would have a whole lot less polluted rivers and streams.

  57. The Hindu Ecofeminist hit a point that I come back to often. Linda Gupta said about the polluted Ganges river is that people believe that the river is a goddess that can cleanse anything, and therefore anything can be dumped into it with impunity. This idea of “transendence without reciprocity” has lead to the pollution of the river. I feel this also applies to many Judeo-Christian ideas, that because their god is separate from Nature and that Nature is subordinate to this god, the physical realm of Earth isn’t as important as the heavenly sphere in the sky. Because Nature is second to their all powerful god, anything can be done to Nature because the true eden is in the sky. This mindset has lead to the demotion and destruction of Nature because their is an implication that god will make it all better. When in fact Nature must be cared for by us, that the rivers, the forests and the animals must be treated as if they are the only ones we will ever experience. We must love the rivers as if they are our only lifeline….because they are.

    • I think you are absolutely right about this dangerous (what I would call misuse) of the idea of trancedence to license careless treatment of the world that sustains us, Jessica. An essential point in the detrimental effects of this dynamic.

  58. Growing up I never spent much time in the local rivers, but I did spend a lot of time in the ocean. I remember the feeling of awe at the sheer power of the waves, and I always felt empowered when I made it back safely to the beach after battling my way past the breakers and back. I suppose this feeling of empowerment is why Henry Cultee’s elders “taught him to dive deeply in the river when its water was ‘alive’, when it was at its most powerful – and the greatest challenge to humans.” The ocean taught me to respect the power of nature, and to learn this respect I had to dive in during the most turbulent times. To experience such immense natural energy stirs up something inside, something from the core of existence. This mysterious power is what gives us life, and if the rivers and oceans of the world can harness this power then they deserve to be treated with reverence, and not simply used as “garbage dumps.”

    • Wonderful point about the power of bodies of water in nature, Jordan. That power that we cannot control is, as you note, “something from the core of existence” that “gives us life.”

  59. I don’t know why and I will never understand why a corporation can walk in, set up shop, and take over. It makes me crazy trying to figure out why the locals never have any say. They put a nuclear waste treatment center in my area and everyone fought it. It was going in no matter what. The politicians said, “It will bring jobs.” The people said, “So what! We’ll have a lousy 20 jobs and everyone will be in danger!” We already have some of the highest cancer rates in the country. The nurse told us one night at the hospital that they have have had several teenage girls come in with brain tumors and the hospital can’t figure out why.
    I really truly think people think a little won’t hurt our rivers either. I’ve heard it a million times. Like the Ganges, it will in time.
    I love it when politicians say, “The impact will be minimal.” Or, “The emissions will be within federal guidelines.”

    • Wendell Berry’s idea is that the reason corporations do this in areas where people have no say is that if they did have a say–or an economic alternative– they would never let these industries set up shop near them. I think that each one of us in our daily lives and in concert with our communities will have to invent as many ways as possible to take back the power to protect the world that sustains us. Can you see how you might support those who have begun this process, Dana?

  60. Great essay! I agree that to love a river you have to care for it but I think if you’re going to care for something you need to want to care or you will never love. The problem with today’s society is that most people don’t care at all. They dump where they want because they have the NIMBY principle stuck in their head. It’s sad really but maybe the majority is just ignorant. I agree with the Hindu idea that “all is one” but how long will it take for the majority of the world to figure this out. I’ve heard the saying many times “in order to succeed you have to fail” but I really hope this isn’t true for the natural world because will it be able pick itself back up? Maybe we should start caring so it won’t have to or has it come to the point where we need a law for “nature rights”?

    • Thanks, Dylan. I like your connection between care and (real) love as opposed to some idealized version which is just a projection of our own desires–and too often, an excuse to do whatever we want to please ourselves with respect to the love “object”. I also feel your sense of the imperative for us to change our ways and quickly. There is enough to heal in the natural world already without undermining the sources of life more and more. At the same time, I hope you never underestimate the power of your individual choices and actions in an interdependent system.

  61. I loved this article. Actually I can’t think of one thing in nature I like more than rivers. I love the way they carve the land and create the circumstances for their own continued existence and flow; I love the way they wind and bend and fork; I love the way they deposit rich minerals into flood plains, and provide thick, rich, riparian vegetation for wildlife to live in; I love the way they nurture everything with water, and are part of the earth’s own system for cleansing and recycling the finite amount of water to be found here. Rivers are just one little piece of what makes Earth so beautiful, but they hold a special place in my heart.

    • Thanks for sharing your won love of rivers, Michele. I think we in the Northwest are fortunate indeed to have so many rivers around us– which makes us all the more responsible for caring for these precious waters.

  62. I like Grandmother Agnes’ request for the sign. I would love to see many of those along the Snake River here in our area (and everywhere for that matter). The rivers aren’t garbage dumps, but I suppose their strength leads people to believe that garbage will be carried quickly and far away – to supposedly not do any damage to the water or those recreating in it;
    The persistence these Elders have is inspiring, and I’m glad their love and connection with nature is “contagious” I’ve learned alot from their readings.

    • I agree that the persistence and moral stance of these elders is inspiring to all who are fortunate enough, as I have been, to come in contact with them, Mary. Their love and connection with nature — and with their communities– is certainly “contagious”. Thanks for your comment.

  63. This article is particularly poignant for those of us who live in Hawaii, and particularly on Kauai. Kauai is home to the wettest place on earth. There are rivers everywhere. Many of the rivers flow from the mountains, down waterfalls, through communities, and out into the ocean. It’s is very easy to love a river on Kauai. In the river where I live we swim, play, and jump off ropes. Most people know it as that waterfall from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but to us it simply called “Kipu.” On the North Shore where we spend out weekends, we swim in the Kalihiwai river and the rivers of Ke e’ and Hanakapiai. Loving rivers here is a natural state of being. It’s as natural as loving your mother or father. The land here resonates with thousands of years of history, generations of past residents, and the energy of life we call Mana. This is power and energy that comes from the land, the rivers, and ocean, and from within ourselves. To distinguish you apart from the land on Kauai, is unnatural. This island consumes you, envelops you, and exudes from your very being. There is an energy that comes from this harmony of living in close intimacy with Kauai. It’s transformative to those who see it for the first time. It’s a difference that can be felt by those that don’t possess it. It’s a way of demonstrating to all that we belong to this land and it cares for us, just as we protect and care for it. We are one, and that unison can be witnessed and understood by all. It’s my hope that people will realize this when they visit Kauai, and return home seeking the same type of intimacy with nature.

    • This is a breathtaking photo, Joshua. I cannot imagine how living amidst such beauty would not instill a reverence for the land here– as this eloquent testimony expresses. Thank you for sharing this profound response–and putting it forward as a model for us to love our rivers wherever we are.

  64. The power of water has always astounded me. An anecdote came to mind when I was reading this article. When I was about 6 years old, I had spent the day on the Umpqua River in Southern Oregon with my family. As I was walking through the water to the shore, one of my favorite “jelly” sandals came off my foot and was immediately swept away by the river. After a moment’s distress, I made my peace with the river and tossed the other shoe in the current in defeat. To my six year-old mind, the river had stated its presence and I was humbled. In an instant my favorite pair of shoes had been gone. It was startling but amazing. It always saddens to go to a river but not be able to experience the water for fear of pollution, or to see rivers turned turgid brown colors because of all the dumping. In the case of the Ganges, this cycle has come back and lead to severely polluted waters– waters that are considered sacred by many. This cycle does come back to us, even if only in inhibiting our connection with nature. By disrespecting the water and using it as a dumping site, rivers in turn will cut themselves off from us and make themselves unavailable for us to enjoy or use– and it will be our fault.

    • Thanks for sharing your childhood lesson, Ellie. It is a bit of reciprocity when we can no longer drink the water of the rivers that sustained us. There are already water crises all over the world. A recent National Geographic issue on global water use was very good in pointing this out.
      I don’t always mind brown water– after a rain, it can symbol the power and fertility of the river– although not so much if it is full of stormwater chemicals.

  65. I found it amazing that people believe the idea that people believe the idea of transcendence without reciprocity, and they believed that they could put anything in their rivers without any negative consequences. While it is very amazing to me that these people find their river so powerful and amazing, it is sad to me they pollute it so much. If this theory is correct, as Lina Gupta has thought, then a major teaching must be done. These people obviously believe that their rivers are very powerful, if they feel that it can sustain itself with no problems. If they realized they were polluting their beloved river, I’m sure they would stop the actions that are ruining their river. In addition to this, Gupta explains that it is in Hindu’s belief that they are responsible for their own actions, so this further shows they are unaware they are polluting their river, and someone needs to desperately make these people more aware of what they are doing.

    • You have hit on a key point in the issue of transcendence without reciprocity: like those who feel they can do anything to the environment and it won’t matter, since God has prepared another world for them anyway. This kind of view of transcendence so total that nothing we do really matter is not one we need.
      Sometimes as well, such actions are ancient habits that, when multiplied with burgeoning populations over the years cause real problems– as you point out, consciousness is needed to realize you are polluting what you love, as Gupta points out– indicating the more appropriate Hindu interpretation here.

  66. During spring break, before I started the journey of ecofeminism, I rowed downstream on the Wilamette river from Corvallis to Wilsonville, about 100 miles. My two friends and I camped on the islands along the river at night, and enjoyed the beauty and serenity provided by the river during the day. We made many great memories, some pleasant, some surprising, some dangerous and exciting, but my personal favorite was one of serenity. There were a few times where the rain was coming down in many small drops, but the river was so wide that the drops hitting the water made a hissing sound that was above all else serene. There were parts of the trip that were daunting – when the river current would not help our little canoe along at all and times where the current would carry us at exhilarating speed until it would turn the canoe about several times, or even run us aground at a shallow spot. I never thought about it, but even though we respected the river (we kept all our trash and buried our fire pits and tried to leave no remnants of our presence) I never thanked the river for providing so much for me. We are planning another trip, and I am looking forward to seeing my friend, the Willamette, again soon.

  67. The river is life, both spiritually and physically as this article describes. Environmentally it makes sense – the water in rivers travels more fluidly and extensively than any other system, unless its dammed up. Unfortunately, this creates a very nice means of people carrying out the “not in my backyard” philosophy. Pollutants easily get carried away and forgotten to become someone else’s mess. Dams are the problem of someone downriver and out of sight. Kudos and congratulations to the Skokomish on the first step in success toward taking back their river. It is funny how that contrasts with the story of the people on the Ganges, in that it is the beliefs of both people that are causing them to do what they are to (or for) their rivers.

  68. Richards’s comments are very amusing, and yet at the same time very true. It’s too bad that whites and indigenous people could not have been more honest with each other. That is terrible that Governor Stevens had actually written that. It makes me think of politicians today, and the dishonesty that occurs in the offices of the states.
    It is too bad that the people who installed the dam could not have come up with a better idea than that. At least acknowledge that the initial construction of the dam would leave fish out of water. Would it have been too much to somehow sweep the river and get the salmon out first prior to the construction? Probably would have cost money, and we can’t have that. I know salmon were not the only being harmed due to this dam, but there is also a possibility that the electricity from the dam saved many more lives than it harmed. Still I understand the harm and find myself in a struggle with how to decipher this incident.
    I know the domination of nature is a bad thing and we need to find a working balance. I need to continue to try to find this working relationship as well. I have stopped drinking bottled water as of about 15 months ago when I had read something about how bad it was for the environment. Today I am not sure what I had read, I know it was on a website, but it was enough to wake me up and have me realize that bottled water is a gimmick and harmful to the earth. I’m glad others such as the Winnemem are making a change to stop this horrible process while protecting their river.

    • It sounds like you are taking responsible steps as a consumer, Jonathan. One of the major problems with bottle water in places where it is not the ONLY alternative for drinking water is the waste entailed in plastic bottles. I agree that we have a serious problem with the connections between greed and power in this society today–though there are a few countries whose leaders could model some ethics for us. In Bhutan, the (Buddhist) monarch just passed a law to give his people the power to vote him out of office if they wish; in Ecuador, indigenous president Evo Morales cut his own salary in half on taking office. And I even go so far as to venture that there are a few politicians from Oregon who stand on ethical values as opposed to the consolidation of power. One thing we can and should ask is who funds what before we make our decisions to vote.
      And as for bottled water, Bhutan also outlawed that in their country because of its environmental damage: you make a good choice!

  69. I think one of the most important things (there is more than just one) to consider from this article is the fact that anything we put into the river will come back to us eventually, literally! The chemicals that get dumped into water ways cycle through the water cycle and also come back to us through water tables. Plants can soak up harmful substances from nearby polluted water, which we can in turn ingest. It really is a good example of Hinduisms idea of karma; what goes around comes around. It’s sad that the things going around in our rivers have already caused a lot of damage, and most people have yet to fully understand the consequences of their actions.
    I was reminded when reading this article of the people of Bangladesh. Their daily lives have been deeply impacted by the change (due to global warming) of the water around them.
    There is a creek that runs right through the middle of the town I live in, and it’s one of my favorite places to go most of the time. The only time I don’t enjoy visiting the banks of this creek is during the summer time when it is littered with food wrappers and beer bottles. People would never dump such things into any other thing they saw as a living being, so what makes a river, creek, ocean or lake an exception?

    • Thanks for sharing your own perspective and care for the waters that bring the land to life everywhere, Amy. Your point about Bangladesh reminds us that rivers provide this essential function everywhere–and I like your point about understanding that the river is alive–not simply a “thing” into which we can dump things. This was a sign the “Grandma Aggie” wanted in her first river blessing ceremony on the Willamette: “The river is not a garbage dump.” And literally, as you note, if we treat rivers in this way, we do the same for our own bodies.

  70. When we see native peoples honoring and respecting the natural world around them, it is amazing to me that white ancestors as well as our current population do not see any connection to the balance that the world had.

    As soon as these things stopped being done, we started to cause damage to the world around us. For a connection that is so easy to make, we do almost nothing to try to reverse our actions.

    Native peoples, especially here in the United States, make a conscious effort to continue their ancestors way of honoring the natural world. This happens all around us in this country. it is covered on TV and in newspapers, yet we still do not make the connection.

    We are deeply connected to the natural world and the destruction and abuse of our resources and planet are only hurting our human bodies. Perhaps when we begin to suffer more directly on a massive scale, those in power will finally make the connections necessary for our survival.

    • As we face more crises, it is harder to keep up a particular level of denial for sure, Rick. I also feel that there are some who do “get it” in our own society– and I look to them for inspiration and wisdom. Without them, we would surely have little change to “make the connections necessary for our survival.”

  71. Somewhere, we lost a lot of instinctual knowledge. The knowledge that allowed us to live and eat with the seasons, that taught us to be a part of the world around us. We got this idea in our heads that we were the stronger, that to prove our strength, we had to show our powers. We are like gods, we can mold and change the very landscape itself. We dont have to look at the future, we dont have to face the consequences of our actions, cause we can just create another chemical, man-made solution and throw it at the problem like a large bandaid. Only now, we are learning that such actions dont work, they only make matters worse.

    California had some beautiful land, for planting, for creating fields of beautiful fruits and vegetables. But soon our need to plant and make money, got larger then the available planting lands. So we created more, but then the water table in California couldnt handle the extra load. So then we started diverting water from other states, affecting their water tables. It’s a constant greedy cycle. At no point did anyone say “Wait, we cant handle another farm, another housing district, etc.” No, we have this sickness, to expand, and keep expanding, living way beyond our needs and the ability of the land.

    It’s time to get help for our illness, to go back to those who are wiser, the shamans, and plead for help. And actually listen and do what they tell us to do!

    • Thanks for sharing this profound plea for healing of the soul sickness that drives us to try to be literally larger than life–and keeps us wanting more and more, Sam. There is a disease here that will take the very wisest among us to treat.

  72. I know this wasn’t the direct point of this essay, but I find it really interesting that Henry Cultee was 99 years old and wasn’t on any medication. Doctors usually over prescribe everything. There’s a pill for just about everything out there. I believe the average age for a male is 75 in the US. Imagine how much higher that would be if we took care of ourselves and what we ate like Henry. I imagine that Henry respected the foods he ate and therefore took care of them instead of processing them into nutrient-less junk and shooting chemicals inside fruit to keep it pretty. The fact that he doesn’t have any major illnesses like diabetes or cancer shows that there is something wrong with the way we eat, not the other way around. Getting back to basics would do us all a world of good.

    • HC felt it was his spiritual connection to the land of his ancestors, established in childhood, that gave him such health.
      Certainly there is something to be said for healthy food in an era when there is so much of the opposite. I think you might relate this to the purity of our waters in a number of ways. Any thoughts on this?

  73. I think its pretty sad that a people can care for a river for generations and generations and then one day its completely ruined by damming it. Rivers can provide lively hood for a people and it should be a priority to protect them. I agree with the idea that when we pollute rivers we pollute our own body, afte all we’re 70% water! Its easy to love a river, it sustains its own ecosystem which can in turn provide many benefits for humans. Its sad that most of our rivers currently have polution problems considering that the water from the rivers can eventually pollute our bodies. Thats a good example of karma.

    • It is sad indeed that these rivers no longer have waters pure enough to drink from– and I like the fact that dams are coming off of some rivers–and being modified on others. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  74. How do we love a river? One way is to show respect- that we can begin to respect all Nature, including the river. We have an obligation to ‘grow in wisdom’ and not just in stature or in knowledge. Wisdom includes growing not only in our knowledge of how the world works, in our self knowledge and knowledge of our human nature, but in a moral wisdom as well. If we are going to create a sustainable culture, growing in moral wisdom is even more of a necessity. The rituals and blessings of the river and of giving thanks to the returning salmon show a deep respect for the environment. Conservation ethics have been embedded in their daily life and cultural practices. This inherited stewardship obligation is unique to indigenous cultures, and they always respectfully use and protect their resources.

    • It is certainly true that respect and love are intertwined– something to remember– such respect (and the rituals that express it) does indeed “embed conservation in daily life.” Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  75. I agree that a river can teach us about karma. If we take care of a river, the water will later nourish our bodies. If we allow the river to die in any way, we are essentially killing a part of ourselves. Unfortunately, the people who make bad environmental choices are frequently the people who don’t have to live with them. (NIMBY and such) In this case, the river can also teach us that we need to find the strength to love it. We need to find the strength to not support companies with bad environmental practices, no matter what the cost to our convenient lifestyle. We need to find the strength to show reciprocity to the river. The river can teach us how to find this strength within ourselves, and when we exercise this inner power, we can do ourselves a world of good. I have never been near a river without feeling at peace, like there is something right with the world. I would love to be able to say that I took care of a river, just as it took care of me.

    • Lovely points, Amanda. It seems like you are likely taking some steps to take care of the rivers that give you a feeling of peace already– following what you love!

  76. By dumping whatever we want into our rivers and streams, it does demonstrate reciprocity. I hope that the karma that we do recieve from the disrespect of rivers will teach us to change our ways. The precautionary principle needs to be put into place when damns are installed. There are many species that rely on the flow of the river to be constant and not random burst of water. We need to learn from our indigenous ancestors and respect the rivers.

    • I don’t think our dumping demonstrates any sense of reciprocity: just the opposite. We are acting as if there were not consequences to our actions. But I think your point might be that the results will arrive even if we ignore them. Rivers are the life’s blood of the land–and our blood depends on their water. Thanks for your comment, Brandon.

  77. The statement “we all live downsteam” is so utterly true. We may dump something in the river and watch it float away from us, but it is only floating away momentarily. Depending on the substance it will come back in a many different ways, it could be evaporated, it can be absorbed into the ground, a cow could eat it and then we eat the cow. Its all a circle of life and by dumping things in our rivers we are only polluting our bodies. Water on earth is all connected and we have to have that water to survive, so by throwing and dumbping stuff into the rivers we are only harming ourselves.

    • And even if we don’t see what we put in the rivers come back to us soon, it comes back to us in the cycle of natural life, as you point out. Meanwhile what others put in the rivers upstream from us will soon be here. Time we all shared our responsibility for the water commons that supports all life on the planet. Thanks for your comment.

  78. I think that the quote saying that the river teaches us reciprocity is very true. everything depends on water to live and by dumping things into our water will come back to us in the water that we use on a daily bases.

    Rivers really do teach us a lot of things about the world. And they should be loved. Many different animals live in rivers, and rivers help shape the earth as time goes on. Yet people don’t seem to have any respect for all the things that rivers do. We can learn from the native Americans in this area. Learn to respect and love the river and all that it does for us.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ayla. There are so many reasons indeed for us to love the rivers that sustain our lives and other natural lives as well well as teaching us so much.

  79. Professor Holdren,

    I really enjoyed this article, and I think it paints a great picture of how we could treat our rivers better by practicing reciprocity. It is important to note, as you did in the essay, that everything that goes into the river eventually comes back to us. This should alert humans that if they want to care for themselves they in turn need to care for the river. We can’t expect to continually gain from nature if we are not willing to give something back to it by helping to care for it.

  80. I liked this article quite a bit. I have always lived near a river, the Columbia and the Willamette river, and have many fond memories playing on the beaches, floating in the rivers, and hiking alongside them. I can understand the distress of the Skokomish people when their river was stopped up by the dam. Rivers are a source of life which is shown by the abundance you see surrounding nearly every river. Seeing their importance in the scheme of our environment, they really should be protected.

    • They should indeed, Frank, be both protected and respected. Thanks for sharing your personal experience in terms of what the river offered you growing up on its banks.

    • I agree that rivers really should and need to be protected. Fish are such an intricate part of the ecosystem and when they are not thriving something is out of balance. Obviously a dam stopping flow of the river is a huge hit to the balance of any river. We need to find a nice middle ground where rivers can flow and people can cultivate energy that does not destroy the ecosystem.

  81. How to love a river? Experience it. We are lucky in Oregon to have the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act which affords a great deal of protection for the numerous accessible rivers.

    I have been lucky enough to cover 121 miles of the Oregon rivers so far this summer, with another 50 to go, and it never ceases to amaze me how even in the most tumultuous portions of these rivers how tranquil I can feel. I would not consider myself to have had anywhere near the experience the Lower Chehalis had diving deeply into the river, but I believe that I can glean a similar impression.

    I know that my exposure to these rivers has given me a greater appreciation for their power and beauty along with an emotional attachment. How to love a river? Experience it any way you can.

    • Great point, Thomas: I am glad you have had the opportunity for such adventure and intimacy with rivers–and more still to go! I think you have a point about experiencing these rivers: even if it simply sitting on a tranquil shore. It seems to me that one who experienced this intimacy with a river could do anything but care for it.

  82. I think that the most telling line in the entire essay is “those who say they revere the river as transcendent can actually use this as an excuse to pollute it.”

    We as individuals must first learn how to love a river and to do it in a manner where respect flows both ways. As individuals we must accept the responsibility for natural stewardship before we can form into effective groups for combating these problems. Then we can do it without making excuses.

    Having spent a great deal of time on and along rivers I really do feel that there is something special about their interaction with the land itself and those around it. I often wish that I had oral histories passed down to me when I was younger because those experiences clearly have an affect on native peoples and how they treat the water with respect.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. It is certainly true that oral tradition motivated much reverence for rivers (positive care, not an idealization) in indigenous traditions. Besides, who doesn’t like a good story?
      We have had quite enough, I think, of making excuses (no matter how ingenious we are at doing this).

  83. For some very deep seeded reason I have always had a fondness for rivers. My favorite being the Umpqua River with its silky smooth clear flows of water that will suddenly turn to white rapids and back again just as quick. We can learn a lot from Rivers, especially reciprocity at its most basic of states. What we put into the river comes back, in many different forms.

    We should realize that just as the essay says “When we pollute the rivers, we pollute our own bodies.” I feel the oneness with the river, and have learned much from it. It’s hard to believe that anyone standing on the banks of a beautiful river would need a sign like Grandma Aggie’s “The river is not a garbage dump”. We need to find a way to reach those who don’t feel connected and enable them to this oneness with rivers.

    • The Umpqua is a gorgeous river– with some very different moods at its headwaters and downriver. What we put into a river indeed comes back to us, as you note, in many forms.
      Good thoughts about connection and care: I think you are right that those who are connected to these natural lifegivers will not need a sign like Grandma Aggie’s–and that we need to support all of our population to become close to rivers for their sake and for the sake of the natural world.
      Thanks for your comment, Julie.

  84. I appreciate the sentiments attached to this article. We need embace our lakes, rivers, and streams because they are important for the natural balance of our ecosystem. Everything in life in nature has a natural cycle including the salmon. These salmon spend part of their lifetimes in our ocean waters and the other part in our lakes and rivers. These salmon are a food source for many creatures including ourselves. When we disrupt their natural cycle and life by polluting our rivers, we disrupt the natural cycle for other creature as well, including ourselves. Also when we pollute our lakes, streams, and rivers we inhibit our ability to have natural resources such as clean air and water. Some of these pollutant chemicals to into our atmosphere releasing carbon dioxide emission into the atmophere and depleting our ozone layer and creating global warming. These toxic chemicals that emit dangerous toxins also disrupt our weather patterns as well. We need to be mindful of our actions so we can all survival for future generations.

    • Thoughtful point, Elizabeth– thanks for the reminders that when we pollute a natural body of water, we also pollute ourselves–and diminish the chances for healthy survival for ourselves and our children.

    • Elizabeth I agree with you. It must be an organized consolidated approach that reaches beyond boarders and across oceans. If we do our part in the United States, if everyone here was cognizant of the natural environment and our impact on it, and mitigated this regularly by changing behavior, it is all for nothing if China, Japan, Russia, etc do nothing. As you mention the weather patterns are impacted by pollutants of concern in our air and atmosphere, what is let into the air in Japan, China and Russia from industry is found in California, in the oceans off of the coast of all western states, in our soils, our sand and so what we do here to better our environment is offset by what is done in other nations. Developing nations that do not have stringent regulations and are trying to forge their way and make a name for themselves are the worst offenders, because anything goes, and anything is going and running into the rivers, carried trough water conveyances both natural and man made to our oceans, carried by the wind in the air and is hurting so many people, and more important, is hurting the natural balance. The natural balance is so off balance, it is going to tip over at any time. We must look beyond our differences and come together to solve this very significant problem, or we are all in trouble, as this does not pick and choose some people and animals and plants to impact, it affects us all.

      • Thoughtful response, Lizzy. In a recent interview, science and technology historian Ulrech Bech (author Risk Society), said we needed a new cosmopolitanism based on justice to get us out of our environmental woes.

    • Elizabeth,
      I agree that water pollution, oceans, atmosphere and ozone layer are all interconnected and when we impact one resource, we impact all!

  85. This perspective is one that all people should hold and value, but unfortunately, this is not the case. So many people use the term Karma to explain away situations and occurrences, but when it comes to what is going on currently in our waters of the state throughout this country, people simply look the other way and make no attempt at connecting occurrences resultant from our impacts to our waters as karmic. Beyond this, people do not choose to consider that so many people in this world have the same thought pattern of a typical “polluter” and pollute, not even for a moment considering the quantity of pollutants including trash and cigarette butts that have been thrown out of car windows by others at the same location for example day in and day out. And of course, putting all of these “thoughts” together to consciously acknowledge that one action has been compounded exponentially by all of the other people repeating that same polluting act is simply not something we are taught to do, so why consider the impact?
    Instead of people approaching life and asking in so many instances; how does this impact me, we should instead be asking, how does this impact my environment, as when our environment is not healthy, we cannot achieve health and wellbeing. In regard to the white man moving rivers- and the Native American People’s knowing when the white man has arrived because the river has been moved; this is such a sad reality, but it is so very truthful. I have seen this first hand through work, and it was my very first project at the City I work for that gave me the opportunity to really recognize and comprehend the impact us white folk have on our environment. The Army Corps of Engineers channelized San Pedro Creek, and since this was done in the early 1960’s neighborhoods and commercial areas that were built in a flood plain that was once Lake Mathilda flooded regularly costing residents, businesses and the government (NFIP) thousands of dollars annually. A response to this channelization was assembled and all of the funding pieces and jurisdictional pieces as well as interest in fixing the problem were coordinated beginning in the early 1980’s. Since 1998, a phased flood control project has been underway to restore the creek to its natural form. This has cost upwards of 23 million dollars and has including creek mouth and beach dune habitat restoration phases as well as creek channel restoration and fish passage enhancement. The white man, in this case the Army Corps of Engineers channelized many water bodies across the country in order to allow for development of neighborhoods and commercial areas to occur. This effort to control and constrain the natural flow of water for our own benefit has backfired in most instances. Katrina is one example of this method backfiring. Nature cannot be controlled or canned and scientific as well as engineered thought processes are changing as a result of this realization. The Army Corps is now resolving problems created by actions taken in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and Congress has appropriated millions of dollars for the Army Corps to investigate solutions to problems resultant from channelizing waterways, and to ultimately fix these problems. Land Use planning and Zoning Regulations must also support the protection of natural areas and processes in order to buffer nature from our impact further.
    The green building revolution has acknowledged this and attempts to further resolve problems that result from development of lands within close proximity to natural habitat areas and sensitive areas where endangered and protected species live or forage, but getting people to change their behaviors and refine their thought process when it comes to the impacts we have on ourselves verses the impacts we have on nature and how that hurts ourselves is no easy task. Children are learning about this is school thankfully, but we all must do our part by never littering or polluting, and being conscious of everything you do during any given day and the most responsible way to live. Climate Action Planning and the development of adaptation strategies in response to sea level rise projections will also support the restoration of natural areas and will lead to the white man and everyone else living farther away from natural areas that need their space to function correctly.

    • Can you think how the concept of karma might be used to motivate good behavior, Lizzy? Who are these “so many people” who have it so wrong? I have a problem with any approach that affixes blame to an unspecified group of people- or any group of “others” period. This too often goes with stance of personal victimhood or powerlessness– since we cannot change “them”– only ourselves.
      I like your query about where we ourselves fit into this dynamic–and the questions to ask in that respect. It was the habit of the Corps of Engineers to channel such streams throughout the nation as a flood control measure. That was the case with Amazon Creek in Eugene. Such channelization often did away with adjacent wetlands– allowing for more building as you note it did in the case of the San Pedro.
      But I am a bit confused, are you saying that the channelization of this creek increased flooding? Is it because that motivated people to build in the flood plain?
      The cooperative move to restore the creek to a bit of its former self must have been rewarding to see.

  86. This essay demonstrates just how our lives and well-being are intricately tied to nature. Rivers are the blood streams of the Planet and the fact that our society is often unaware of the consequences of polluting these “blood streams” is distressing. But I take hope in the words and actions of the Skokomish people. Also love the fact that Grandma Aggy has “status” with the salmon. They, the salmon people, do in fact have the ability to confer status and recognize “kin”.
    Another interesting point was the definition of the ‘commons”, in relation to the democracy of life and was very helpful in my understanding of the term. In another class, I am studying Malthus theories of population and also Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons’ . This coming week, I am assigned to teach my ecological Anthropology class on these subjects and I am excited to have a different viewpoint to present and data to back these concepts. I feel that the term “commons” has been misused was confused with controlled lands and not commonly held lands such as indigenous groups hold “in common”.
    As an aside, around healing our polluted waters, have you ever heard of the work of Dr. Emoto from Japan? He has performed empirical experiments with healing water with intention for many years, with great success. I have read his books and gone to hear him lecture when he’s been in the US. He is very ill but his work is continued by many scientists worldwide.

    • Rivers are indeed the bloodstreams of the body of our planet, Maureen-and I also find it distressing that too many fail to recognize this and treat rivers accordingly. I think Grandma Aggie has status with just about everyone (human and more than human)–and deservedly so. She is quite a woman!
      I can imagine you will have a great time with your class on this topic– you go, girl!
      I have heard of Dr. Emoto’s work. Some dazzling photography that is outside the realm of scientific “proof” but situated in the just as important (from my perspective) realm of beauty and care.
      And it is about time we had a more sophisticated idea of commons; I find it distressing that there are those who label “socialist” and then reject any proposal that entails our caring for one another– or working together for the common good.

  87. Unfortunately it is a too often painful thruth that society is increasing contaminating our rivers and the air we breath. It is interesting that those that believe the rivers can trancend whatever they choose to dump don’t realize that what they are doing to the river comes back to them in the form or polluted water that contaminates them! It is reciprocation that is being forgotten or that people seem oblivious to. What we put into the air or the rivers is what comes back to us. If we pollute the bodies of water that nourish our bodies then we are polluting ourselves. I am so glad that people are out there that understand this and are trying to bring awareness to those that just don’t seem to get it. All to often the contamination comes as a byproduct of greed, ie. the bottling of water, make a little money and give Americans one more way of consumption. Sad.

    • Thanks for your comment, Deborah–and the reminder that when we pollute the waters upon which we depend, we inevitably pollute ourselves as well. Awareness of this is certainly essential if we are, as you note, to combat the greed that is often behind the careless use of our natural resources.

    • I also think that many people do not even see the impact they are having on the rivers when they pollute them. It seems like some people see the river as a large amount of water that can take things being put into it because their amount of waste will not be enough to hurt that amount of water. This is definitely not the case and the river is not something that can be seen like a landfill. Your example of the bottled water is a great one because people see water as an unlimited resource but actually it will eventually dry up if current consumption rates continue into the future.

      • Hi Andrew and Deborah, I think it is important that a number of cities our outlawing bottled water in the EU and the US– shows the developing consciousness and action that we need.
        The sense of the largeness of rivers is a pointed one. What makes us think that we can/should devalue something so much larger than ourselves?

    • I totally agree with you. However seeing the irony of we do these things out of greed, but in the end we’re losing more than what we have gained.

    • It is indeed a painful truth. People are so concerned with their own selves and instant gratification that they have forgotten that consequences are not only short term and in fact may have more devastating effects in the long term. another article by Dr. Holden discusses how breast milk carries toxins which is a perfect example of what you say about it coming back to us. people pollute the air and the waters and then our babies have to pay the price whether we try to avoid toxins and pollution or not.

      We need to learn that more consumption and money is not the answer. if more people understood this then maybe a difference could be made. I still have hope that someday… before its too late… more people will want to make a difference:)

      • I share your hope, Ely. I agree that we have no right to make babies pay the price for our convenience and short term profit. The consideration for other species and rivers that some elders considered to be alive is a consideration for ourselves as well. I hope someday we will get that as well.

  88. I find it interesting that the very things we (Western Colonialists) see as valuable, life giving, and even sacred, are the very things that we try to control and ultimately destroy. I feel that the river (all rivers) fall into this category.

    Only a cursory exam of the pattern of settlement in our country reveals that we concentrated our most massive settlement efforts along rivers. No doubt that the early European settlers saw the river in a similar fashion as the native peoples did, as a source of food, water and transportation.

    Later in our nation’s growth, we began to concentrate our industries along the river because it was a readily available source of power and again a conveniently located transportation route for the many goods that were produced.

    Along with industry, residential and agricultural run off have an impact upon the river and as the population grew so did agriculture and its impact.

    As time progressed, industry began to dispose of its waste materials into the rivers along with sewage and waste water from the many residential areas which were concentrated near the river. All of this was done under the notion that if we put into the river, it will flow “down stream” and no longer affect us.

    Eventually the weight of human impact upon the river became too great and it died. Yet even in death the river continued to pass along all of the toxins which had been deposited there. The pollution that was carried by the river is now being passes to the near shore waters, coastal wetlands, bays, etc…. These areas are important for food, water quality, shelter, flood control, recreation, etc… all of which we value. And so all things come full circle.

    To your list of ways on how to love a river I would add we should all live as though we “lived down stream.” Perhaps then would we carefully consider what we put into our river.

    • Living as if we realized we are downstream (since, after all, we all are in an interdependent world) is an important prospect, Ron. You touch a needed point of consciousness about the way in which we lay waste to our natural treasures. There is not only irony but tragedy here–and something to change once we become conscious of both our effects on our rivers and our positions downstream. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  89. I believe that rivers are one of the most important aspects of the natural world. They give life to humans and all forms of life in our environment and support many ecosystems. Reciprocity is an important environmental value that people need to understand when caring for rivers. The examples in this essay show how the indigenous people cherish the rivers they live near and how they view it in the natural world. One thing that is common among all of these people is that if the river is cared for in the right way it will return with sustainability for everyone. We cannot just put whatever we want into the river and expect it to go away with time. People need to realize that they are actually hurting their own health by polluting the rivers and creating an unhealthy environment. Around where I live in Saint Louis, there are a couple major rivers and they always look dirty and have objects floating in them. I have been on vacation to Colorado and it was there that I saw what a natural, clean river really looks like and it was refreshing.

    • It is sad that cities where so many humans live near rivers (as where you are), there are such signs of degradations of these “most important aspects”, as you aptly put it, of the natural world. Rivers are not, as Grandma Aggie reminds us, ” a garbage dump” in which we can dump whatever we want to go “away”– but the source of our lives.
      You are absolutely right that we must learn that degrading rivers inevitably degrades our health- not to mention, treasures that sustain all natural life from plants to humans. Thanks for your comment, Andrew.

    • Yes, we do tend to throw away some very unusual and often hazardous things into our rivers lakes and oceans. I agree that with the proper amount of care and remediation in some cases the river can return to a somewhat normal and relatively safe condition. There is evidence for this idea in a river that is not ten miles from my home. The Susquehanna River is making a come back mainly due to a combination of efforts from Federal, State and local Government interventions, Watershed groups and private organizations.

      Unfortunately some of the damage that has been done to the rivers is long term, and very difficult to clean up. For example the Hudson River is one of many that are contaminated with Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB). The contaminant is a dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) which sinks in water. So as the contaminant flows downstream it sinks as it travels, yet it does travel. It tends to settle into the river bottom. To remove it the bottom must be dredged. When it is dredged the accumulated PCB is then agitated and disbursed into the water column and travels again. This causes quite a dilemma. Should we attempt to dredge the material to remove it or should we just leave it where it is?

      PCB is just one example of the many pollutants in our rivers which can not be effectively “cleaned up” with current technology. Although the Hudson River may be restored to something near clean, it will have to live with the specter of DNAPL contaminants probably for many generations.

      • Thanks for giving us these details, Ron. It is true that we have much to do to heal what we have done so carelessly (and greedily)–and the sooner we begin the better. And as your points here indicate, best of all is using the precautionary principle so that we do saddle ourselves (or the generations to come) with these kinds of clean up tasks.

      • I wish we’d be more mindful before we make a mess and would have to clean them up. I feel like we are constantly making small messes and constantly cleaning them up, which makes the whole picture look like one big mess that we will not be able to deal with.

  90. As silly as it seems, this post reminds me of the movie Pocahontas, in a very basic way. We take so many things for granted and use things without knowing what we are doing or what we have changed. By just looking around and really trying to understand or surroundings we can see life in a whole new way. Although the power company was solely focused on getting power from the river, I wonder if they ever even thought about the effects downstream. I live in Hood River and the river is the main part of our town. When people camp and liter up near the top of the mountain, the garbage and debris in the streams eventually winds up in the swimming holes and in the columbia where many tourists, as well as all the fish are. It is a simple concept of just being aware of what is downwind or downstream from you. Being aware of your actions, similar to karma and the principle of reciprocity we discussed in earlier lessons, can help achieve a positive outcome.

    • Thoughtful points, Kat. It is unfortunate that we don’t have an ethic that motivates us to leave things better than we find them. Just think if all those who camped on your local river cleaned something up instead of littering there, expressing their reverence (and modeling it for others) of the river’s life sustaining waters?

  91. All too often we act without knowing what the consequences will be, I think all of us are guilty of this. As we dump pollution into the river we don’t see the immediate consequence, it’s just simply the easy thing to do. But we are not thinking about the pollution sinking into our soil, going into our atmosphere and destroying one of the most important ecosystems we rely on. We are not aware that as we dump pollution into the river, it is going into the air we breath, the food we eat and the water we drink. Most important of all, we are not the only ones to suffer the consequences but our next generation and their children will also have to suffer for what we’ve done. I really wish we can become more mindful of our actions more often, but the sad reality is that we’re all too often living mindlessly..

  92. The people of the Willamette River must have had a similar transcendent view; I’m surprised I haven’t heard this as an excuse for the amounts of pollution there. I grew up in Salem, where the Willamette runs right through. It was never an option to go swimming on hot summer days in a mellow section in the park. Never once had I considered taking out the kayaks, or ever thought about going fishing. This river was certainly used as a garbage dump, and made it a disgusting place for many years after. I’m glad to read that there is now a sign in Eugene that says the river is not a dump.

    • A reason for grieving, Kara. And perhaps if we hold in our vision the Willamette River whose water was once so clean and full of life, we might change our actions to enact that vision.
      It is in one sense unbelievable that a river, precious as it is, might be used as a “garbage dump.”

  93. I have to agree that if we love a river we must care for it just as the Skokomish have. We also have to realize that rivers are our lifeline and by polluting them we pollute ourselves. One of my favorite activities is to take a walk along the river or ride my bike along the adjacent trail. I’m always amazed at the abundance of plant and animal life I find on these outings, but I’m also very disheartened by the amount of trash I find floating in and around the river and creeks where I live. I think this is probably less common in Oregon than here in California’s central valley. Sometimes I take trash bags with me when I go on these outings and it is incredible how quickly I can fill a bag with discarded food wrappers, beer cans, plastic water bottles, etc….Sometimes people stop to say what I am doing is wonderful, and while I know they mean well and I appreciate their comments, I really don’t think what I am doing is wonderful at all. I think it’s necessary. Unfortunately, there is some much trash I never get to it all, and the areas I do clear end up littered again all too soon. I think I need a sign like the one Grandma Aggie has that states. “The river is not a garbage dump”.

    • I love your perspective about the necessity of caring for the rivers that carry the water of life in them. As you might gather from some of the comments here, Oregon’s rivers also suffer such carelessness. At one point a part of Portland’s port was designated a superfund site for all the industrial waste produced there (and going into the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette at that point). For those of you in Corvallis, the Corvallis Environmental Center has created a great map of the Willamette River water quality, detailing the point sources of its pollution.
      As you take your bag along and pick up garbage, you are creating a message to the passers-by that says, “the river is not a garbage dump”–and maybe a certain Cooper’s Hawk even sees you there. At the very least you are doing the birds that frequent this habitat a favor: certainly you have saved some from being painfully entangled in plastic or swallowing cigarette butts (that look too much like food to some).

  94. Part of reciprocity is the act of listening to the language and songs of the rivers. Grandma Aggie talks about this language and the art of hearing to what the rivers say to us. I like to think that each river sings its own unique song. If I were to go to Ganga the river song would be sweet and soothing yet uniquely different of that of the Umatilla or Santiam Rivers. I think the rivers’ songs change when we take from them without the respect of reciprocity. The reciprocity that Grandma Aggie speaks of that was missing, I believe made the rivers’ songs sadder, or even silent in the cases of dams.

  95. It’s so hard to grasp that there are people out there that really have no consideration at all for what rivers do for us. I love our rivers and cherish them and thank them for being there and for providing us with resources and life. My family and I visit the rivers around us on a regular basis- there are several in Central Oregon- and I am always astonished at the amount of trash that we find. I know that there are people out there that are either ignorant or just don’t care but I also know that if I inform and teach my kids about pollution, appreciation for nature and how to care for and respect nature then there will be a few more people in this world that can make a difference. I have heard my kids and their friends talking about how rude it is to litter and how we should take care of the environment and it makes me happy to know that they are informed and actually take in what we are teaching them.
    I have been to third world countries where the rivers were, literally, the garbage dump. People not only dumped their garbage and sewage into the rivers but bathed and did laundry in them as well. It was so sad to see- the people living in those conditions and the pollution and degradation of the rivers. Those circumstances are not solely due to ignorance rather poverty. In our country, we have the means to avoid similar happenings yet people here choose to dirty and pollute our wonderful rivers- and I say choose because we have dumps and garbage cans everywhere yet people still throw things in and around the rivers. It’s sad to realize that a lot of the pollution here could be avoided but because people make bad choices, those of us that care and our environment are greatly affected. 

    • I am thinking of Grandma Aggie (chair of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers) who had us make a sign for the Willamette River Blessing that said “The River is not a Garbage Dump”. In this context, we might be as concerned about what we place in the waters that we cannot see– and expect the river to take away– as the garbage on its shores.
      The rivers are the lifeblood of our land–and as you say, are wondrous indeed. It is, as you note, hard to believe that there are those so callous as to treat that lifeblood in ignorant and callous ways.

  96. I have heard that line before: “We knew the whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.” I can’t remember if it was a reading from this class earlier in the term or what but I think it is funny. However, it probably isn’t something we should be proud of. I relate it to that ignorant friend or aquaintence in highschool (most people have at least one of these in their lives), that would thought he was so cool and powerful, walked around with a swagger and stature that said he would kick anyone’s butt, would say crude or obnoxious things and had to be heard everywhere he went, thought everyone loved him and really no one enjoyed his company because he was so errogant, selfish and most of the time out of line. You may know the type. Well I can’t help but think that is what white people look like to the natives. They just laugh and shake their head at our insensible and oblivious ways, going around this world thinking we can do whatever we please. Its sad that the respect for nature was not a priority when shaping western civilization. Obviously not everyone is this bad or thinks or acts like this. I think it is good that we keep reading about different stories of people who have benefited from loving the earth and respecting nature, however it is the same concept in most of our readings and starting to become very repetitive. I dont have to much more to say that I havent already said. We should all know by now that the natives and indigenous people’s ways of living with the earth (in partnership) was much more beneficial than the dominant relationship we have created over the years, but now we should start reading or discussing how we are going to save our world.

    • Thanks for your comment, Courtney. Can you see how the partnership model applies to different aspects of our lives or our relationships– as, in this case, rivers? The idea of partnership may seem repetitive in the essays here (I’m glad you have taken it so much to heart that it has become familiar!), but can you see how each river (and each community of humans and other species who depend on it) may be important in their uniqueness– whether or not I communicate that point well?

    • I can agree with what you mean about that quote. While it seems humorous, at the same time there is something shameful about it.

  97. The damming of the river in this story hits close to home for me, living right next to the Nisqually river most of my life. This river is dammed and leads up to Alder lake now. It is so interesting to be at the river above the dam- fast, deep, cold- then seeing the river that comes out of the bommon- shallow and wide. I often wonder what it would look like if it wasn’t dammed, how the natural landscape would have continued to form. Not only was the river dammed up, but the city that dwelled within the valley Alder, was cleared out and flooded. There are old housing foundations and debris still at the bottom of the lake. I am curious about how/why it happened, this topic has opened up new interests to me.

    • Hi Samantha, thanks for sharing this perspective. I have a similar experience when I visit the Willamette River above its dams– which currently keep back flood waters from urban areas in the valley like Eugene-Springfield.

  98. The state of the Ganges is deplorable and directly attributable to humans’ use of it as a garbage dump. All rivers need for us to understand that they are not garbage dumps. We show our stupidity in applying religious precepts to cover our sins instead of respecting ourselves and our earth, By honoring and following the precepts of indigenous peoples such as Chehalis elder Henry Cultee who knows that the river is watching, we can redeem ourselves and our rivers.

    • Lovely points, Reb. It is sad indeed that rivers that are so treasured are ironically idealized to such an extent that they are sometimes not cared for. See Gupta’s analysis of this dynamic linked here:

    • Hi Rebecca, I do agree that the Ganges is in pretty bad condition. I wonder if this would be one of those perfect examples where ritualistic and religious ways can end up polluting the environment. The Ganges river is considered so holy buy the Hindus that taking a plug into it washes away the sins of people. In one of the Hindu scriptures it is written that with the help of the Ganges water on of the gods was able to bring someone’s husbands sole peace. I wonder if such stories made the natives feel that the water is so holy that it is ok for them to dispose of the loves ones into the river death to wash away their sins when being reincarnated. Maybe our professor will be able to shed some light if this can be one instance where indigenous peoples methodology in this particular cased an adverse effect.

      • Hello Shailesh, I am not an expert on the Ganges situation. However, Gupta, the East Indian environmentalist referenced in this article, writes that it is actually a violation of the Hindu idea of holism that leads some local people (but not all) to be so careless with the river they hold sacred. You might be interested in reading her essay.

        • Thank you, also from this essay I do have to agree that industrialization is bad out there. I noticed everything goes into the waterways when I was there early this year.

        • It must be very sad to see a river so holy in Hindu tradition in such bad shape from industrialism (this is another point that Gupta makes).

  99. I live on the east coast of the US in coastal New Jersey. While I am not a Native American or an indigenous person I do love a river. For 30 years the Shrewsbury River down the street of my house flows into Sandy Hook Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up I worked on this river, running a marina and bait/tackle shop. I spent 200+ days a year fishing for striped bass on the river. As they say the river is in my heart and soul. I have learned to know its seasonal rhythms. I know when it’s healthy and when it’s sick. I have seen striped bass populations almost reach local extinction, and rise to extremely abundant populations. I understand it as a complex ecosystem that has balance and complexity to it that goes unseen by the novice eye. Simple changes adjacent to the river can have extreme consequences, and I am in tune with them. So while my family has not spent generations living on the river, I have as a local become one with it.

    • Wonderful, David. Thanks for sharing this personal example of loving a river that has become part– as you say– of your heart and soul. I am sure your placement and actions on this river have made an important different to its vitality.

    • David, you provided an excellent personal example of how this piece of nature has become apart of you. You also make a great point, on how you may not be native or an indigenous person, but your interactions and care for the river has made you equally as “in tune” with it.

  100. The rampant pollution of our rivers is another sad example of our, as you put it, “short-sightedness” as a species. We are so intelligent, however, we pollute the very water that is essential to our survival, just as we are destroying the land around it. The fact that we have taken away water-flow from rivers that are sacred to native peoples is disheartening to say the least. Technology has become a monster with an endless appetite for natural resources. We must change our world views and use technology as a tool to replenish the Earth rather than allowing it to continue be a force for destruction!

    • Perhaps we will someday learn the different between being clever– which we certainly are–and being wise. As you point out, Nicole, it is hardly wise to destroy our own life support systems.
      As you note, we must do much better with technology that has other values behind than masterminding/making a buck.

    • It really is sad how we destroy river ecosystems. I remember taking my boyfriend rafting for the first time on a river I had never been on (the upper klamath river) and being depressed by what I saw. When I guided on the Mckenzie river I told people about the beautiful nature and diversity of the water. This wasn’t a possibility for the guide we had because the river was lined by foamy scum and I knew that despite the water being warmer I didn’t want to splash in the water. The guide instead had to talk about how the dam was used as a dumping ground by the mob of dead bodies. What a sad replacement of the glory that the Klamath could be, especially since naturally this water has a fun rampant flow and can be a home to many interesting species.

      • These are sad effects of the dam on the Klamath indeed, Caroline– do you mean that dead bodies were dumped there? I don’t quite understand your wording here.

        • yep apparently the mob dumped the bodies of people they killed there – of course I learned that form a raft guide and they tend to be fuzzy in their credentials! 🙂

        • I hadn’t even imagined– surely something I never learned from a river guide!

  101. I have a similar example, locally, of how a river (or body of water) can teach us about karma. Back in mid-January, Oahu had more than 11-inches of rain come down, which the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill did not plan for. Therefore, a large amount of medical waste discharged from the landfill, into the ocean. The medical waste, including needles and blood-filled vials, washed-up on the shore behind the Ko Olina Resort (a nice resort on the West-side of the island). The waste spillage was not only dangerous to the ocean and aquatic life, but human lives as well. I furthermore found it ironic, that we have tourists come here to enjoy the beauty of the island, and this waste washes up at one of the nicer resorts on Oahu. If you would like to read more about the incident, you can click on this link:

    • Thanks for this link, Leah. This certainly does give us a lesson about our interdependence: those folks acting the tourist on the “nice” side of the island, as you point out, were not immune from the “waste” deposited on another side of the island.
      Another reason why we must mimic nature and NOT create anything that does not become food for other lives when it becomes waste to us.

    • Medical waste incidences tend to get the most publicity given the immediate danger that the waste poses to people that may come into inadvertent contact with a needle or other contaminated items. In this case, it would be interesting to learn if this event made a lasting impression on any of the guests at the resort witnessing the waste wash up onto the beautiful, ‘pristine’ beach. Typically, wealthy individuals have the resources to ensure that landfills, waste sites and nuclear facilities don’t end up in ‘their backyard’; yet here, at the Ko Olina Resort, the guests were impacted on their holiday by medical garbage. Sadly, it takes destructive and environmentally damaging events to wake people up to the realities of their creations- and these events are all of our creations.

      • It is sad indeed that it takes such a direct discomfort to make us aware of the results of our actions. We will hopefully learn soon that we cannot insulate ourselves from the natural world no matter what our income. As economist Mark Sagoff put it with reference to certain natural facts: “Two plus two will always equal four no matter how much people pay to make it different”.

  102. I thought this was a really interesting essay. Personally I feel very connected to water especially rivers since I grew up playing by them when visiting my Granny, rafting on them with my family, and guiding raft trips later on. For me when I see people that I guide down the river take great pleasure in experiencing the fun and diversity of the river I am always a little sad to see them take little care in that water as soon as they take a step away from this experience. It is sad that there is this feeling that water isn’t able to be depleted and is supernaturally going to be able to cure itself from our waste. Seeing someone who just asked questions in wonder about the different parts of the wild turn around and try to ignore trash that has flown into the water because they don’t want to get wet saving it. I think that we all have the capacity to love water well we just need to make our love real through our actions.

    • How fortunate you were to grow up in connection with a river and to share this connection with your grandmother. It is sad that many have not seen that pure water is a limited resource that is precious and in need of protecting, Caroline.
      What do you think about the examples of “loving a river” here?

      • “We knew the whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.”

        I thought this was an important line in your essay because I think it shows how loving a river is loving it for what it is and not trying to change it. I think that is what true love is, to some part, in any relationship.

        • Nice point, Caroline. Seems that we could also apply that to our treatment of many other aspects of the environment that gives us our lives.

        • I used to teach visitors at Historic Jamestown that almost immediately upon arrival in 1607, the English began building drainage ditches, falling timber, and changing the landscape with the introduction of pigs and the decimation of wolves and other life. I find it strange that as people, we have thought that rivers (along with everything else) were something to tame. Did they love this new land they landed upon? Upon arrival, Captain Christopher Newport was quoted as stating that their new home had vast amounts of trees, wildlife, and water- but did he love it?

          Just a thought…

          I connected with your attachment to the above quote as I agree that those who came before loved the river, while those who sought to change it did not.

        • Thanks for this bit of historical perspective, Raquel–and for sharing it with the Jamestown visitors. Perhaps you have read Carolyn Merchant’s very interesting analysis of changes in the New England landscape with the coming of pioneers?

  103. It really is ashame that we do not treat a river as a life source. If we do damage to a river, it really will come back to us. I like that indigenous people can see that this is all one planet, and everything works together as one… there is no place to dispose of something really. With all the modern technology that we have, I know that we could find a way to have technology as well as treat the planet with respect. It’s not impossible. about a year ago I took a biology class where our term project was to research a way to benefit both humans and the salmon run in the Columbia River. From the project I quickly learned that blocking salmon runs have a much larger effect on our ecosystem.

    • It is not only a shame but an ignorance that we do not treat the river “as a life source”– since indeed it is, Michelle– as you note. Our health and health of the rivers is intimately intertwined.

    • I am sure that you are correct, that we can coexist in peace with technology as well as respect but in this culture money is king. Once money stops being so valuable to people and LIFE starts to matter, perhaps we can turn a new leaf so to speak.

      • In capitalism, money rules– but people use money and there are many, many (Paul Hawken says millions) of movements built on care instead that fall under the radar of usual news stories.

    • I agree that there needs to be a way to incorporate more respect for the planet in our technology. It seems in most cases planetary concerns have been given a Scarlet O’hara type response. “We will think about that tomorrow, because after all tomorrow is another day.” Though its a rather dramatic way of putting it, it is easier to SAY that we will find solutions later as we are destructing now. Unfortunately what usually happens is either “tomorrow” never comes, or when it does it is found that the problem cannot be corrected without undoing all the “advancement” that has been made.

  104. I am reminded of the trip I took into Olympia today. I visited a park with access to the beach, however the signs posted were very upsetting. They stated that one should not eat the shellfish, fish, or drink the water because it is contaminated. As you look around you can see why, there is a thick brown scum on top of the water, bunching up at the beaches. It was very sad to see the lack of respect for the land and although there was wildlife –some ducks, osprey, fish and (dead) crabs I wonder what kind of life these animals have and how I can help to reverse it. Unfortunately I know that we can’t reverse it but only start doing things the right way.

    • This is very sad, Samantha. I think that “doing things the right way” in partnership with the natural world is a way of “reversing things”– since nature has amazing restorative powers if only let them come into play.

    • That is awful. In our disregard for natural systems, we have stopped ourselves from being able to experience and enjoy pieces of the earth. I too, wonder what kind of life the animals have now. We humans can avoid this particular area, but the local wildlife cannot. And if it harms us, it surely harms them, probably even more since they are living in it.

      • In anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ The Tribe of the Tiger, she parallels the plight of a group of San people (south Africa) cut off from their water holes by a colonial farmer to that of the other species cut off from their resources by the farmer’s habitat modification. Hopefully, we will be a little more wise–and compassionate in our future choices.

  105. The short sightedness of people polluting rivers absolutely amazes me. Not only are we not realizing that just because we can’t see the waste doesn’t mean it went away but we also are not realizing the actions we have affect the environment in the river. Having grown up near rivers one of my favorite things to do is to go swimming and to see this past time destroyed due to pollution is frustrating.

  106. “We knew the whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.”

    Sadly, the joke of the Skokomish people is really not a joke, but the reality that we live. In current news, the Corps of Engineers are releasing levees and flooding areas in Missouri and Mississippi in an effort to save New Orleans and Baton Rouge. While I’ve always been bothered by people choosing to build on flood plains and below levees with tax payers eventually paying for their inevitable misfortune, I heard a scientist discussing the issue in an entirely different perspective. She expressed that it’s not the fault of those living downstream coping with the repercussions, but the majority of the fault stems from those upstream that have cut trees and paved farmland in the name of progress which then dumps more water into the Mississippi River. The National Park Service fact sheet for the Mississippi River states that the watershed accounts for approximately 40% of the water from the lower 48 states plus 2 Canadian Provinces; compound this amount of water with the enormous amount of alteration to the path of the river- taking a naturally winding river and straightening portions which can speed water discharge- and the results are disastrous.

    Rivers are the arteries and veins of the earth; as we poison, dam and alter their course we harm the earth and all of its inhabitants, including ourselves. The Corps of Engineers can pretend to ‘control’ the rivers and their discharge, but the truth is they have little control. A better course of action would be to begin allowing rivers to return to their natural cycles and paths; this would entail people being relocated, but they’re already having to relocate due to this crisis. As well, maybe then we’ll learn two important lessons- concrete doesn’t absorb run-off and it’s best not to build on a flood plain.

    • Thank you for the analysis of the Mississippi River situation, Rory. Of course, it would also help if we were not releasing so much carbon into the atmosphere that we are disrupting the stable weather system humans have enjoyed for the last 10,000 years.
      Your suggestion would take tremendous infrastructure re-shaping– let up hope that we find some way to work this out for the sake of both our farmers upstream and the local residents downstream here. It is the heartland of our food production that this river serves– we might also note the “dead zone” at its mouth stemming from chemical use of upstream farms. We cannot afford to treat the lifeblood of our land so carelessly.
      We might well begin to repair things with smarter agricultural techniques: as a recent forum report in NATURE found (just this month), we have the technology for sustainable agriculture (which would, I assume, entail wetland protection and onsite stormwater drainage in most circumstances): we just need the political and economic will to apply it. The 2012 Farm Bill is a place to begin now (see the Union of Concerned Scientists’ analysis on this).

  107. I liked very much how you tied in the longevity of one Chehalis man to the longevity and care that many people can put into a river. I thought this paper was an excellent representation of reciprocity and really drove home the message that the things we care for will care for us as well. The examples you gave of the Skokomish winning back water from the dam and the Willamette blessing their water show me that locally, people still care.

    This all leads me to question whether or not the east coast is behind the west in caring for our rivers. The Chesapeake Bay continues to suffer pollution and yet the only incentive to care for the river I’ve been given, as a person who lives on the water, is a higher tax rate on my water bill to pay for cleanup. I just don’t feel that is adequate. What happened to promoting buffer grasses and oyster beds? We can’t even eat the shellfish out of half our tributaries and tidal rivers because the pollution and heavy metal content is so high. Who will speak for the rivers out here? I am fond of the project as they do quite a lot for the bay.

    • Thanks for your comment, Raquel and your care for the Chesapeake Bay. I know there are some east coast successes– like Pete Seeger’s leadership in cleaning up the Hudson River. It sounds like your local bay is ripe for activity.
      And though I also like the link between individual longevity and that of a people and their land (and the reciprocity involved here), I can’t take credit for making it: it is part of the Chehalis tradition Henry Cultee shared with me.

  108. i like how the river was connected to karma, that whatever we put in will come back to us eventually. it really gives you a broad scope on what happens when people dump things into water. i dont know where humans imagine these things are going but they are finding out now that its coming right back to bite them.

    • Indeed, the bad karma we’ve accumulated by dumping toxins into rivers and damming them up has already come back to harm us. In a sense, by harming the rivers we are harming ourselves. Hopefully people will learn to keep this in mind before they cause more destruction.

      • Thanks for reminding us that what we do to the rivers, we do to ourselves: as chair of the Indigenous Grandmothers Grandma Aggie puts it, “we are all water babies”, since our bodies consist mostly of water–and what we do to the waters of the land we do to the water within us.

    • Indeed, I think when we live in such self-isolated landscapes, we feel that whatever we put in the river will just be carried away from us somewhere we don’t care about.

  109. It seems very telling that the Ganges River can be sacred to so many and simultaneously be one of the most polluted and threatened rivers in the world. Even something considered sacred is mistreated. It seems that people would want to treat such a river with care, as they are being cared for by the river.
    I like the idea of knowing where the river flows and who it nourishes. If people had to acknowledge who else relies on the water, where it reaches, and what it does, it seems less likely they would treat it so poorly.

    • I think it is important to understand that it is not reverence in general that has hurt the Ganges (quite the opposite, as Gupta stresses, treating the Ganges in this way is actually a violation of Hindu ethics). It is the kind of supposed reverence that leads to carelessness– since it absolves us from being responsible for our actions in the here and now.
      I agree with you about knowledge of the river and caring for it– and we cannot forget that whom every river nourishes is also ourselves.

  110. The care that Indians show the rivers is something that we no longer understand. Rivers to us are just something that can produce electricity or food and we use them until they are completely used up. The joke “We knew the whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.” really shows us the difference in perspective between those who truly care for the river and those who simply seek to use it. We “move” the rivers into our possession and then pollute and destroy because “it’s ours and we can do what we want with it.” The bad karma that we pile up has already come back to bite us hard but it’s not too late to undo some of the damage and prevent further damage from happening.

    • Good perspective, Mark. It is never too late to change– let us hope we might do so with respect to the waters that sustain us before what “comes back to bite us” is even more difficult than the current tornadoes and floods in the midwest (exaggerated by climate change).

  111. I think it is very interesting that Native Americans can always be found near rivers, they obviously knew the power a river holds. Rivers have ability to produce and nurture many life forms, therefore living by one is very smart. Although once the White man came into the picture they knew things would be different because the river would be ‘moved’. The traditions the White people brought were very different from the Natives and saw nature as a commodity to be used as their disrection instead of using the natural workings of the earth to make everything better. Because it is very true that whatever we do to our rivers and our environment inevitably comes back to us. If we pollute our planet, we pollute our body and soul.

    • You obviously have a love of rivers as well, Cyria. They provide our lives and livelihoods– as Grandma Aggie (Chair of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers) says: we should never forget to thank the water for all it does for us.

    • I agree, I think it is really fascinating that Native Americans have always been found near rivers and really treat the rivers with respect The idea that rivers are a constant ebb and flow really reverberated with Native Americans. It is sad to think and to read that this was not the way whites viewed the rivers. I, personally have a deep respect and have always really had an affinity for rivers. It is interesting to read how others do too and now I can put feelings into thoughts and words on why rivers really speak to me.

  112. Very disturbing how the white people pretty much destroyed the river for electricity, causing harm to the Indian people. These people has taken care of the river for years, they lived off it and knew it up and down. Once the dam went up, the salmon runs stopped. Salmon are a very tough species, but there is nothing they can do when there is a dry riverbed. Hopefully the electricity company can change its ways, and restore the river back to its original state.

    • Indeed, Troy. Underscoring the point you make here, Jim Lichatowich’s book is called Salmon without Rivers.

    • Hi Troy
      Salmon are indeed tough. I am constantly amazed at their tenacity despite dams, pollution, and overfishing! There are a few big estuary habitat restoration projects going on in the Pacific Northwest right now, and lots of river restoration projects for the benefit of salmon. I just hope it is enough to help the threatened and endangered ones bounce back. It would be such a pity to lose them, and if we did I think the heart would go out of many Northwest tribes.

      • You know, Amy, perhaps it is only my personal denial, but I cannot even imagine the Northwest without its salmon. The heart would likely go out of our entire bioregion. Thanks for your comment.

  113. What an ironic joke about the river being moved! Along with marshes and wetlands (the nurseries for the salmon), and in California, the sediments and mercury from hydraulic gold mining, its amazing that there are any salmon left here. I felt fortunate to float on the South Yuba River here in California and to see salmon creating their redds, and fighting to find spawning ground, despite these challenges. And part of me wonders how many more challenges these fish can take!

    • Thoughtful perspective, Lindzy. The challenges they face are parallel to the ones humans face — whether some of us are conscious of it or not. There is still mercury from the gold mining in nearby hills in a reservoir near Cottage Grove, Oregon-and stories of many Asians brought in to mine there that went insane as a result of mercury exposure. That is the origin of the term “mad hatter”– as mercury was used in making the insanity producing hats. Now we are being asked to sustain more mercury in our air by coal burning industries–a major cause of coal burning in our air and water worldwide is coal burning– which is why rice is currently the major source of mercury in the Chinese diet– from mercury in rain from coal burning.
      Time to change things for the sake of the circle of life. Those salmon working so hard to find just the right safe place for their children could teach us all a lesson.

  114. What a poetic thought that the river really shows us the best of reciprocity. It’s true! I love how there is so much to learn just from a river. The changing water that brings us food and takes away food. The constant moving, swirling and livingness of a river epitomizes how we should all view the environment and all of our land- not just rivers.

    • If we cannot learn how best to live from such living features of the land, I don’t know where we will learn it. Thanks for sharing your own appreciation of the live world that sustains us.

  115. Rivers in many cultures represent peace, tranquility, and the fertility of continuing life. To contaminate these sacred places is truly a crime against the natural world. Imagine aliens coming to earth and observing humans allowing companies to purchase the right to dump directly into the rivers that cover our world. How simple and idiotic would we look? There are few examples of natural exploitation that are more vivid than the pollution of our once plentiful and sustainable rivers.

    • To contaminate our rivers, as you say, is “truly a crime against the natural world”– and perhaps against our ourselves, since our bodies are such a large percentage water that flows through us in our blood as the rivers flow through the land. Thanks for giving us some perspective on dumping in our rivers, Michael. We would look ignorant indeed to anyone with such perspective.

  116. “How do we love a river?” By seeing it as we see our own mothers. These rivers have been the very lifeblood of native peoples for thousands of years. The fish the rivers provided fed them, the water nourished them. Rivers carried messages amongst tribes and villages. These rivers nourished them in ways that only their own mothers ever had. Of course they loved them. For much of the western world, that relationship has been lost. It is not the rivers that give us water to quench our thirst, its the faucet. Salmon doesn’t come from a net cast in the river, it comes from the supermarket. We no longer have the same visible relationship with the river (as well as other natural resources) as we once had. We don’t respect it so we don’t care for it.

    I kind of wanted to go a bit further with the mother analogy (something along the lines of in-laws, etc. ) but didn’t want to offend anyone.

    • Hmmm, we can use our own imagination about the treatment of the river as if we were in-laws (or outlaws?).
      Treating the river as our mother is a lovely analogy– after all, it is the source of our life-and that, as you note, which also sustains us.

  117. We have to learn to love our rivers! It is where we obtain our water, it is where we go to relax. Rivers are the reason why there is civilization; without rivers, there is no irrigation and no agriculture. So when it is said that when we pollute our rivers, we pollute our bodies, it should be taken literally. The rivers have given us our life and we should make sure that they are able to have theirs.

    • Important statement of our responsibility to our rivers, Ben. Not only have the rivers given us our lives, so that they should have theirs– as you so well put it– if we do not let the rivers have their lives, we will eventually not have ours. Thanks for your comment.

  118. Thanks for sharing about how the Hindu people believe the Ganges River is a goddess who can cleanse anything. I find it pretty spectacular that the Hindu people can still believe this, given that they get up close and personal with their polluted river on a regular basis as they bathe in it! Just another example of how a strong belief can obscure reality.

    • Perhaps, and also an example of the power of a river to inspire us in spite of its degradation at our own hands? Hopefully this inspiration might come full circle to motivate us to care for those places on earth that so touch their humans.

  119. I remember when I was younger and my family used to take rafting trips down the John Day River in Eastern Oregon. We had to time it right, do a little finger crossing, and sometimes walk my father’s patched old raft (whose frame and oars he made himself from discarded Weyerhaeuser timbers) across the ‘riffles’- wide shallow gravel bars that made floating impossible. We had to time things carefully because the river was not dammed, had no set flow, and varied by year. I didn’t think much about it as a child, but I remember the abundance of fish and other organisms, sometimes in sharp comparison to other rivers we’ve floated.

    I doubt that the best of care has been given to the John Day River, but since its potential for power production was low and outside of ‘practical’ reaches for producers, it was spared the damming process that has damaged so many others.

    Looking back at dams that have been placed, in the twentieth century especially, many of them seem to have been erected without much foresight. Whether it was a lack of understanding, desire for capital, a need to control nature, or most likely a combination of factors, much of what has been done has had such dramatic consequences that I am often surprised when I see propositions for new projects. It cheers me when rivers like the Rogue are ‘set free’, but the doubtful voice in the back of my mind makes me wonder if it will be a case of ‘too little, too late’. Hopefully not; I earnestly do hope that we can rediscover a state of balance and biodiversity in the waterways, and that natural systems will have the opportunity to recover.

    • It is wonderful that you were able to share this experience with your family as a child, Adreinne. Let’s work for a world in which our children have access to the same gift.

    • Your father’s use of discarded Weyerhaeuser timbers is an excellent example adding to your point that the John Day River was spared because of its “impracticability”. Whereas someone somewhere “ran the numbers” weighing whether damming the John Day River was worth it and concluded it wasn’t, someone thought the timbers your father salvaged weren’t valuable either. It is this inherent value placement that has caused so much environmental devastation, but in the midst of it all are incredible stories of other kinds of value. “One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure” the saying goes, and where dominators see value only in natural resource extraction, others see value in natural resource preservation.

  120. It seems like the colonial way to look at a river is to determine whether or not it has value to them in terms of personal gain. The dam for example was used in the article. The river was seen as something that was not doing anything, which is seen as a reason why a dam should be put up. There did not seem to be any reasoning as to what else the river is used for. The fish up stream or the people who get most of their water from rivers were not really considered in the creation of the dam.
    I also agree with the article that many people see a river as a place of purification. This view does not really help the river. It does give away to the view that anything can be thrown in the river and become pure. The problem is that is not really very true everything stays in the river and does not get washed away.
    I remember a road by the little pudding where I used to live. People would leave all kinds of garbage, mostly in bags, in by the river. They knew that someone would clean it up because it was considered road side garbage. They had the same mentality that it is now out of sight and it is now out of mind.

    • Thanks for sharing your own perspective and experience here, Javier. Too bad about the bags of garbage as well as the idea of domination/colonialism. And I find it both interesting and tragic that the idea of purification should have no consideration of ways for the river to clean itself even as there is so much of a load put on it to clean others.

  121. Two ideas from this essay really struck me. The first begins with knowing that everything we do has an effect. For example, when a car accident happens on a highway there is a ripple effect behind it. Depending upon the size and scope of the accident, this ripple could cause miles of traffic backed up and hours of travel time disruptions, not to mention the immediate injuries possibly involved of course. If we take this type of cause and effect and apply it to dam creation, why does no one anticipate the backup – not in terms of cubic feet of water – that this will have? As Henry Cultree believes that fences stop the flow of life (which struck me as an amazing concept), what do we think that dams will do?

    The second point was that of a revered Hindu idea that “all is one”. It just so happened that immediately after reading that point I looked down at my arms and noticed the veins that carry my blood around the to the far corners of my body, sustaining my life. I couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t coincidental. I’ve always thought, and I’ve been told as well, that I have fairly veiny arms. Focusing more intently on my arms made me think about how they are my body’s rivers, circulating blood to the extremities of my hands and feet keeping them warm. Blood carries oxygen from my lungs to the other tissues in my body that require it, blood carries nutrients to all parts of my body that require them, and blood carries waste products to my kidneys as well. Blood serves a great number of other purposes as well.

    Looking at the Earth in the same manner, rivers are the great highways of transportation in the gigantic water cycle, changing states from liquid to vapor to solid at various stages though a myriad of processes such as evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, and underground flow. So yes, what we put in the river will come back to us and “all is one”. All the water of the earth is connected just as all the blood in our bodies is connected.

    • Thanks for your comment and sharing this analogy, Trent. There are good reasons why many have compared (as you do here) earth’s rivers to the circulatory system of a human body.

  122. It is so important for modern society to help restore and preserve rivers because rivers are places that we get essential natural resources from, such as fish food and drinking water. Humans and rivers share a great deal of reciprocity between each other, but most of that reciprocity has had a negative effect. Humans have polluted the rivers with many poisonous chemicals, and the rivers gave nothing good in return. We need to start caring for rivers, so that the reciprocity between humans and the rivers will have a positive effect.

    • Very true Maileen,

      The reciprocity that a river gives back to us can only go so far without us giving the river something positive in return. All we seem to do is poison the waters. Poison and take, and now our bodies are showing negative consequence of such actions. As are the rivers.

    • As you note, Maileen, there is no more important place to enact a responsible reciprocity with the world that gives us life than in the case of rivers.

  123. I liked how the river is the model for reciprocity. What goes in it ultimately returns to us. If people had this thought and respect in mind before the onset of dams, and pollution, then maybe these things would not be such an issue as they are today across the globe. I also like the idea that the river can purify, this can come in many contexts, but the simplest seems to be the most powerful. I think by respecting and honoring a river and teaching the important aspects that the river has for people and especially for the inhabitants of the river and surrounding ecosystem, is the best way to love it. I used to live at the headwaters of the Colorado. To see such beauty and unobstructed formations of water from the mountain runoff was amazing. Then to think of the battle over the “water rights” for the entire Southwest farther downstream? That was disheartening. After house-boating on lake Powell (a reservoir of the Colorado River, above Glen Canyon Dam) and seeing the change in water use and flow below the dam.. especially the massive pump system to divert much of the river AGAINST GRAVITY into the suburbs of Phoenix, to water their green lawns (in the desert!) made it even more worrisome for me. I have even more respect for the power of the river as it slowly degrades away, I can only hope for a better management approach in the “water rights” battle in the future. Too many people all over the world still believe that a river, and especially water in general, is bountiful. I firmly believe that the next war will be over water. People waste, and disrespect our most precise resource. I wish more people had the mindset that Henry Cultree has had towards the rivers.

    • The battles over water rights have already begun, Nick– there are many ecologists who agree with you that the next great crisis will be over water– especially in the face of global warming and growing global droughts.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective on the Colorado River; living at its headwaters must have been quite an experience. We certainly haven’t done well by this river in using its water so carelessly, as you point out. I hope with you that more people will learn to revere our planet’s fresh water before this gift is gone.

    • I too am greatly saddened by the current state of the Colorado river. I am constantly amazed that people in a desert environment feel the need to have lawns. I think that if more people understood how much of a waste of water having lawns in an environment where they are watering their lawns completely off of supplemental water coming from hundreds if not thousands of miles away, they might have more natural landscaping.

  124. I really like the idea of rivers and water exemplifying the simplest form of reciprocity. Everything that we degrade the quality of water with comes back to haunt us in the long run. Every pesticide used on farming lands or pollutant dumped into water sources ends up in the drinking water of the world. I feel that we as human beings take water for granted, our most current generations( especially western cultures) have always had water at our finger tips. It always amazes me how little respect people give for water on demand, coming from the water spigot or the kitchen sink. Humans, especially Americans just don’t understand the vitality of water, they have never had to go a day without it or walk miles and miles to fill up a water jug. I think that if more people truly understood the roll of water in our daily lives they might treat it with more respect and an eye for the future.

    • I agree with you that water is underrated. Maybe if people would backpack into the wilderness for a couple days and have to find water they might learn how important water is and how hard other people have to work to supply water into the homes of a city.

    • I agree most don’t even have to pump to get water. Its always just there in a bottle for us to drink. Or now we have filters to make our water clean when it should be already. Its easier to but a bottle or a filter instead of questions why our creeks and river are polluted and have to be filtered.

  125. The promises of the government that the treaties would stand for as long as the rivers shall run unless you read the fine print is sad. This has become the norm for the way everything is done here in the US. It can be seen today with the agreement with the Tacoma Power. They promised to let enough water out from behind the dam to let the river flow again. However they just let out the amount all at once, which will not do much for the longevity of the river flowing. It would be more beneficial to the river, flora and fauna if the water was released at a more constant rate over time. Not all in one shot.

  126. It is too easy for people to pollute rivers and dump things into street drains that will end up in the ocean and streams without feeling the effects. What one person dumps upstream will be felt by the person downstream. Rivers seem so large and constantly flowing that they are easy for us to take for granite. I am glad that recently dam removal has been on the to do list for several major rivers including the Elwha, which is currently coming down, and the Klamath, which will have three dams removed. Disruption of the natural flow cycle and constantly taking a little water here and a little water there from it has a large impact. During the Banff Mountain Film Festival this year I saw this film that really had an impact on me.
    It’s sad to know that one of the largest rivers in the U.S. doesn’t even make it out to sea because we take so much from it.

  127. (new)

    I found two points int he essay very important. The first is how people in my opinion will twist values to suit their own needs. By this I am referring to the idea that the river Ganges is a goddess and thus can take in anything and clean herself. I find it terrible that people would twist this up to give themselves permission to pollute the river to such extremes. I think this may also have a NIMBY attitude as well. Perhaps some feel that they can pollute all they want because that part of the river may be clean but those down stream are inundated with pollution and there is where the river can’t clean itself. I liken this to our own bodies. You can’t just put junk in and expect to have a perfectly functioning body, stuff is going to start breaking down from the back up. You need to give your body, or a river, or anything TIME to restore itself.

    Which takes me to the last point I enjoyed “..When we pollute the rivers, we pollute our own bodies.” Everything needs water to survive. Put plainly you pollute the water, drink the water then you pollute your body. Maybe if they showed that more people might take a second to actually think about what they are doing and make changes to stop it from happening.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brandie. The point you bring up points out the serious negative repercussions of some ideas of other-worldly spirituality– which gives some an excuse (or limited perception) in terms of the responsibility for their own actions here on earth.
      Time is an important consideration in much ecological restoration: thus we cannot think we have replanted a forest, for instance, by simply setting the same number of small trees back in the ground as the ones we have cut in a clear cut– for that forest needs time (hundreds of years) to restore itself.
      The scarcity of clean water is an issue already pressing in many parts of the world–and growing more pressing every day.

    • Excellent connection between polluted waters and polluted bodies Brandie! I may be overly judgmental of others’ eating habits and I know I shouldn’t judge, but I cannot fathom all the junk, sugar-laden, salt-filled, and fast food that people consume en masse in our country. It disgusts me. People then wonder why cancers are on the rise, obesity is becoming endemic, and the average life expectancy is declining. It doesn’t take a PhD in astrophysics to connect these dots. Sure, I wish I could eat whatever I wanted and also have a healthy long-living body, but that’s not the way it works. My personal choice would be cheesecake.

      This personal responsibility plays out not only in our bodies; it begins with how we treat our natural environment. There is no such thing as an enclosed system, everything is connected and it comes back to us in one form or another. Sometimes religion can act like blinders and earplugs so adherents see and hear only what they want/expect to see and hear.

      • Hi Trent, though I do agree with you on the importance of personal choice, we might also wish to consider that ways that the fast food industry balances sugar, salt, and oil to trigger addictive brain responses in the consumer (that is the all the more reason to stay away from fast food?) and the ways in which processed commercial foods are subsidized in a way that makes them cheaper for low income consumers than their healthier alternatives. We need different personal choices AND a system change in priorities as well.

  128. It sickens me at times to think of how the US government tricked Native Americans in to treaties. Often the wording in the treaties was misleading or the U.S. didn’t even bother to honor it. Native Americans not only respected the river but all things in nature. They would pollute them as we do know. Many creeks and rivers in Oklahoma such as the Red River and Cache Creek are polluted and covered in garbage on the sides.

    • Such instances are sad pages in US history, Francisco. I hope we are able to face our past and learn from it–and work together for a better future– sooner rather than later.

    • The image that is the United States that we learn about in grade school and which is propagated to the rest of the world is one of hope, equality and fairness backed up by democratic ideals, but in reality the US is not as squeaky clean as we like to pretend. We gloss over our country’s many injustices or forget that they happened at all, for example, internment camps in the US during WWII. Still, while the US isn’t the best it is capable of great things as well. It is the people of this country that make it great, so if we pushed hard enough we could enact better and more ethical environmental protection laws and help to right some of the past wrongs.

      • Yes, we are capable of great things but only if we are honest about our history such that we are able to learn from it. Thanks for your comment.

        • Quite right Professor. I constantly am reminded of George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, which is also quoted as “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”

      • Does the ethical environmental protection laws help to maintain the natural system? Yes, maybe it does partially. The most important thing for us to do is…”act by yourself”. If we could act individually we can solve the problem. (not watching someone to do…)

  129. Again, here we see depictions of what we can learn from nature. As mentioned in this essay, the ideas of karma, and reciprocity are shown plainly. It is silly to think that one can dump anything in the river and as pointed out, whatever you dump in the river, it will eventually find its way back to you. I enjoyed the comment that the crap you throw in the rivers finds its way to treat the person who disrespected nature with the same level of low regard. It holds truth that with anything in life, you should always do what is right not just when people are watching but when people aren’t, because who knows what river will be after you next.

    • Interesting image of the violated river being after the violator, Colette. I am not quite sure about this myself, but on the other hand, there ARE those many unprecedented floods that are coming in the wake of climate change.

  130. Unfortunately, the contamination of river and atmosphere has been occurred. It is interesting to me that people does not realize that whatever people dump into river comes back to you in the form of polluted water and air. I think the river is one of the most critical things in the nature. River provides the “life” to us and support ecosystems. We are not allowed to put whatever we want into the river. If we take care of river it will return nearly perfectly. But if we delay the treatment it will not come back soon. People should realize that river is really close to our lives and should understand that hurting river condition mean hurting own health.

    • Understanding the movement of water in a river is, as you indicate, an essential way to understand our interconnection with other natural lives, the way our actions come back to us with their results, and the importance of clean water to all life.
      The failure to understand such points is clear evidence of the failure of the basic education about the natural world.
      Thanks for sharing this points.

  131. This essay reminds me of how fortunate I have been to grow up between the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. For as long as I can remember there has been a lot of effort put into keeping the rivers clean and because of that they are able to be used for fishing or diving into on a hot summer day. It is hard for me to imagine rivers so polluted as the one described above, but I do know that they exist. I am encouraged by the continued progress in dam removals and a wider acceptance of the importance of protecting the rivers.

    • We are fortunate indeed to be located at the confluence of these tow rivers, Kim. And you might also be interested in looking at the map of the Willamette River developed by the Corvallis Environmental Center, which maps out discharges into the river–and its water quality at various points.
      Citizen action in monitoring local water quality is very important!

  132. Caring for the rivers and waterways, reminds me of some severe pollution I witnessed while living in Key West. The local government paid street cleaners to use leaf blowers to blow the litter—that covered the streets—down the sewage drains early in the morning. The same sewage drains that said, “Please don’t litter, this drains into the ocean.” This was and is disturbing to me. I just wish there was something that I could do to stop this. I know that all positive efforts to protect our environment matter. Maybe if I notify the Environmental Protection Agency they would/could do something about this. It’s worth a try.
    Sometimes notifying the proper authorities does help. I have done this once before and it did work. There was an old diesel train engine that was constantly idling at a train stop on the LIRR. This bothered me on a regular basis, because the engine was always running and for absolutely no reason. One day I decided to fill out a comment card about this matter and the next time I was at the train stop that diesel engine was off. It took me a second, kind of like a double-take, but indeed it was no longer running. I felt very satisfied in this environmental accomplishment, and was proud of myself for do my part.

    • It is great you were successful in terms of stopping this idling engine, Rose. I have often gone up to those idling large trucks and asked if they need to be running– at which point they turn off their engines, which serves only to waste gas and pollute the air, since I have seen them idling for 15 minutes at a time.
      There are little “no idling” signs or “idle free zone” that you have been put up at places like school yards–and I understand that Germany has a signal that indicates a motorist should turn off their engine at a stoplight if it is going to be turning green in more than 15 seconds.
      As for “cleaning” a city by washing plastic waste down the drain, this is a rather blatant violation of what should be happening. I know even construction sites are required to put up straw buffers, etc., to stop excess mud from running into storm drains.
      I am not sure who exactly has oversight of this, but you might also contact the street cleaning division of your city directly (or copy them with the letter you sent to the EPA).
      Thanks for your citizen action. It is very important.

  133. I am intrigued by the idea of learning about the democracy of nature from rivers. The clearest example of this that I can think of is the Rio Grande that flows between Texas and Mexico for part of the border near El Paso. If you drive along the interstate there, in some areas you can clearly see just across the river/border who it is so industrialized and looks very barren. Then if you look at the river, it is in a pretty sad state there too. It tends to have a low flow for much of the year and looks polluted. This setting exemplifies many environmental issues – from outsourcing our pollution to companies taking advantage of places that have less strict, or at least less enforced, environmental standards. Yet this river, which feeds the ground water on both sides of the border so clearly shows that lines drawn on a map are just arbitrary. What is done to the river on one side will afffect both.
    Thank goodness for people like Grandma Aggie and the Tibetan monks who bless our waters to honor and heal them!

    Peace, Jen

    • Jen, I couldn’t agree with you more. We are polluting our rivers more each year and then we complain when we can’t use the water in them for recreational or domestic purposes. Our actions will only change when we start to understand and take responsibility for our part in creating these environmental disasters. You make a great point about what happens on one side of the river affects everyone and everything on the other side as well.

      • Indeed, there is no way to divide a river down the middle (as we have done with respect to political boundaries). Perhaps care for a river might even bring us humans together, as it is currently doing with the Hindus and Muslims with respect to the Ganges.

    • Thanks for this comment, Jen. It is truly a shame that the Rio Grande is treated as it is by the humans it helps to sustain. Good points about what this view reflects of our actions–and what the river teaches us about the natural contours of the land.

  134. I love the idea of learning reciprocity and balance from the rivers, and that what we put into them always comes back to us. We stand to learn such a great deal from indigenous people about how to care for our natural resources, but it seems we seldom listen. The river in this essay is a classic example of how we exploit and manipulate our resources to suit our needs, with little thought for what the consequences might be for such actions, or how our actions affect others around us. We selfishly abuse these resources for our own gain, and refuse to see that we are only hurting ourselves in the process.

  135. Jamie- I am also enamored with the idea of reciprocity. It has come up so many times in our course and I think it is a nice way to reframe our relationship with the Earth- and with others. If we based our relationships around this mindset, values like respect, cooperation and compassion would just be more natural. And, selfishness, exploitation and manipulation would fade away. Or so I hope!

    Peace, Jen

    • Nice point about the links between reciprocity and other values like compassion and cooperation. There is a reason why ethical codes of so many cultures have entailed the “Golden Rule”.

  136. I live in Portland and am very near to both the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. It is sad that the Willamette River in this area has become a bit of a standing joke. We often warn people not to go in the water for fear of coming out with an extra limb, or not to fish for fear of catching a fish with too many eyes.
    I brought the joke up to a friend that paddles his kayak on the river and he said “it’s ok, I don’t ever disturb the river bed. That’s where all the contaminants rest.”
    I recently read an article on pharmaceuticals(like birth control) leaching into water supplies and contributing to hormonal imbalance in young girls.
    As a result of all of these pollutants and mentalities towards rivers, we (in Portland) have taught ourselves to avoid physical contact with the river. And if we do go in it, we know how to play in it without having to be nervous of what it might do to us. And we certainly would never swallow a mouthful of river water.
    But, here’s the problem, and one that I feel more than a little ashamed of: I was of the mentality that the darn river was going to make me sick. The reality is that I’ve made it sick. Thanks for the eye-opener.
    Knowledge is certainly the best way to create an advocate!

    • I know that portions of the river shore in Portland have been identified as superfund sites for clean up. Let’s hope we get to it–and just for your information, you might want to take a look at the Corvallis’ Environmental Center’s map of the Willamette River’s clarify and source point pollution. Obviously, we need to treat the river that is an arterial lifeblood of our valley as more than a bad joke.
      Perhaps you know the way that Pete Seeger’s campaign of Hudson River clean began– but sailing upriver and stopping at communities along the way to gather support. Avoiding the river is not the way to care for it.
      Thanks for reminding us of our responsibility in this regard: and the awareness that we have made the river sick rather than vice versa.

    • Hi Rebecca. I am in Portland as well, so I understand your reluctance to make physical contact with the water. I volunteered in the chemistry lab at OMSI for some time and while the view of the river was exceptional from within my workspace, a short trek down the waterfront path provided a completely different outlook. I am hopeful that the people in Portland and in the neighboring watersheds can bring the river back to its natural state.

      • A wonderful vision, Latifa. Hold to it! Other cities have done this with their rivers; there is no reason why we in the Northwest, who pride ourselves on our environmental care, could not to likewise.

    • Rebecca, I feel the same way as you do that knowledge is another way to create and advocate. Our humans need have allowed many pharmaceutical companies as well as industrial companies to litter their waste into our rivers, and just as you said it is scary to even think that you can go in the river with the fear that you might grow an extra leg or limb. The stories that we once had with our friends our children will not have, simply because our rivers have become victims to the industrialization movement, and just as you stated it the river cannot make us sick because we have made it sick first, and just like any flu it is contagious and as we expose ourselves to it we will only catch the virus that we have created. This was a great eye opener article, Thanks Dr. Holden.

      • Pharmaceutical pollution in our water systems is indeed a serious issue–and I would not say it is because of our human needs– rather our carelessness and impulsive behavior.
        Thank you for your own caring response, both for our rivers and the quality of our children’s lives, Moises.

  137. Rivers are dear to my heart. I’ve been drawn to rivers my entire life and spent a blessed day yesterday sitting in Quartz creek telling stories with my daughter. Pollution coupled with a disregard of the cyclical nature of waterways is not a legacy I would like to leave behind.

    I loved reading, “There is nothing that can teach us more about the democracy of nature than a river”. It was never more true that what we put in directly affects what we get back. It’s troubling that we are now just beginning to see the effects of our neglect. It’s a shame that the root cause for change was likely the health effects on humans?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and caring comment, Latifa. What a lovely afternoon that must have been with your daughter–and a reminder of what you do and do not want to pass on to her generation as a legacy.
      I agree that we ought to be looking beyond the health effects on humans as our primary motivating factor for changing our behavior with respect to the environment.

  138. The description of diving into the river at the beginning of the article reminded me of the infamous Polar Bear Club, I believe, which made a name for itself diving into icy cold water, or my own experiences with Tamlich Pool back in high school-it really gets the blood flowing, at least, barring prolonged exposure…at any rate, this also made me wonder, somewhat, about the Hindu stance on the river revered as holy by them…I know the article mused on it a bit, but do they perceive the river as divine, or more as a symbolization, or otherwise a general way for humanity to show responsibility in not polluting, or what?

    • To Hindus, the Ganges is indeed divine. What I find most heartening is that the Muslims and Hindus (with the history of some trouble between them) are now united in cleaning up the troubled river that both honor in different ways.

  139. I have lived on or near rivers my entire life and there is a life to them that can’t be found in any other natural environment. The movement, raw power and diversity of organisms creates a setting of both serenity and tension which co-exist in harmony. Because rivers are such unique and inspirational lanscapes, it is especially disheartening when they are destroyed or degraded and the impacts are felt well beyond the channel and water, including our hearts and conscience.

  140. Dr. Holden,

    It is difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that our children could one day not be able to enjoy rivers as we have when we were children. Pollution in our rivers has become one the most devastating issues in our ecosystem, not only because rivers are a fun way to spend the afternoon fishing or swimming but because they provide a resource not many animals and urban cities that rely on rivers for water. Rivers have been here longer that we have and yet we can no longer enjoy them as we did once, we need to change our behavior about what is important in life and our environment and respect our natural world. In American so many rivers have provided a potable water source for many farmers that rely on rivers to water their crops, yet now they don’t just water our crops with that water but also contaminate them and harm our health. A river can no longer be enjoyed to fish because even the fish that can survive in that water are even harmful to eat. Many states need to enforce more regulations on many manufactures to reduce the amount of pollution that goes to these rivers, they are not a dump to simply throw waste in them, yet they are allowed to do whatever they want simply because our regulations are not as strong or as strict as they should be. What we will be left with some days is a river that all we will be able to do is look at it from the distance; this is an viable natural resource that needs to continue to exist and allow us to survive by being able to use its resources for our needs. A river cannot defend its self and as we learned in previous lesson we are the Sheppard of the earth, lets start acting like it and protect what is ours.

    Moises Ascencion

    • It would be sad indeed if our children were not able to swim and fish in the rivers that we did, Moises. Already, as we have seen from some of these comments, rivers once clean enough to drink from are now the but of jokes because of their chemical and pharmaceutical pollution.
      It is essential to remember that they are the lifeblood of our ecosytems– and not treat them as dumping grounds. I absolutely agree with you that our regulations are not strong enough in terms of protecting something so precious.

  141. I think this idea of love can be applied to just about anything. We show our love for something by taking care of it, respecting it, and being grateful for it. Whether that’s a river, a person, the earth, or anything else, that is how we show love.
    I think it’s important for us to remember that idea in all of our relationships. Not only could individual rivers and forests, or even the whole environment be saved with this attitude, but so could relationships with people. I believe that when we love something, we learn from it, and this binds us closer to it. Just as Henry Cultee’s actions towards the river differed from those of his cousin’s (Henry would dive into the river while his cousin would merely wet his hair) so his attitude towards the river differed. He learned more from it because of what he did, and he grew closer to it because of that knowledge he gained. I think as we apply that idea of love in all our dealings, we will be more accepting, learn and understand more than we ever thought we could, and develop lasting connections that will be a benefit to ourselves and others.

    • Very nice idea about the ways in which we express our love toward, as you point out, “persons, earth, or anything else”– through acting with respect, caretaking, and gratitude.
      Great thing, as you remind us, to enact in all our relationships.
      You have an important idea in terms of learning from that which we love– and that, in turn, makes us closer to the loved one. This is a good description of the ongoing living process of love.

    • I have always been scared about dunking my head in water. Therefore, I do not blame Cultee’s cousin for wetting his hair so that he could pretend that he went into the water. One of the most traumatic incidences of my life was when my future step-father put a life preserver on me and threw me into Lake Michigan over and over again supposedly to get me to stop fearing of dunking my head in water. It did not work. All that happened was that it was another reason to hate the man.

      • I have never been a fan of this fashion of supposedly teaching children to swim. I think what you describe is abusive.
        That said, this does not seem to me to be related to the essay at hand, since as far as I know the Chehalis did not toss their children into the water and the wetting of the hair here is used to illustrate not fear but laziness on the part a child who did not wish to do something carefully and wholeheartedly.

  142. My heart was touched when I read that Henry Cultee and his son had taken in two small boys to take care of. This reminded me of the grandparent-children relationship promoted in Grandmothers Counsel the World.

    I went to the site about the Ganges River being one of the ten most polluted rivers in the world. I was fascinated by the facts that I learned there. According to the “World Wildlife Fund,” the Ganges River basin occupies 30% of India, and it contains the widest biodiversity of all large river systems. Also, approximately one in twelve of the world’s population lives in the river’s catchment area.

    I also went to the newspaper report about the alliance between Hindus and Muslims to clean up the Ganges. My heart was touched again that both religions value the river for spiritual reasons. According to one of the interviewees, Hindus take a dip in the river for salvation, and Muslims use the water for Wuzu, which is the act of performing ablution or washing oneself up before standing in prayer.

  143. A tragedy of the commons yet again, where something we all collectively use is abused just because it’s there. So many rivers are constricted by concrete so that they go where humans want them to go and so many rivers are so polluted that they’re toxic. The sad thing is I don’t think we could ever return them to their natural state. Personally I’m terrified of water because the potential of it being dangerous and “acting like a river” is pretty high as well. I think we forget to respect the fact that water is a very powerful thing, it can destroy and take lives if we don’t treat it correctly. Polluting is just one way I think we’re failing at loving a river.

    • Our treatment of rivers is one of the saddest examples of the “tragedy of the commons”, in the way we abuse that which provide us with so much essential to our sustenance, physically and emotionally.
      I do have some hope for the restorations: there have been many projects, large and small, that have been successful in this regard. The Hudson River is one large example; a small one is of a portion of a river running through an LA neighborhood that was restored by neighbors.
      Dams are being removed from a number of Oregon rivers–and there is the Umatilla, that ceased to run entirely because of its overuse which is rehabilitated by the joint efforts of natives and local farmers.
      Though there is certainly much to do, I don’t like to imagine what our environment would look like without such efforts.

  144. The idea that “all is one” – this is such a powerful statement. When we pollute the waters, air, ground – whatever, we pollute ourselves! I wish people could understand this. This is such a thought provoking essay, especially in a time where we are faced with the effects of pollution and global warming. People can put off solutions for the future, but then there won’t be much left for the next generations. We need to take action NOW!

    • I certainly agree with you, Denise. “All is one” is a practical statement in a way– for if we perceive the world in this way, we may understand both the fragility of our individual lives and the importance of sharing a legacy of well being with future generations. And thus we will, as you emphasize, act now in terms of issues like toxics and climate change.

    • I agree that we need to take action and there are many people out there that agree with you. However, there are also a lot of people stuck in their ways. Driving a car is easier than taking a bike. People eat a lot of beef and drink a lot of milk and so farmers have farms that contain an increasing amount of cows leading to an increase in methane in the air. Although it is sad, people need to WANT to change their ways and it this point, the desire to change is not very strong from the majority of people. We need to continue to make people more aware of the global environment and things that we can do to change. In the meantime, companies are trying to become more green. Car companies are creating electric cars that go the same distance as cas that run on diesel and farms are trying to keep the number of cows they have on their farms at a minimum (although this may be hard as demand for hamburgers can be pretty high).

      • Thoughtful considerations, Ruth– though all beef is not raised alike, nor does it produce equal amounts of methane. Beef eaters should look for organically raised grass fed and finished beef as well as being more moderate in their consumption.
        We not only need changes in habit of many, but we need to put a cap on agribusiness lobbyists who have managed to secure so many “perverse subsidies” for themselves in the US Farm Bill– that is, subsidies that wind up harming the soil and our ultimate ability to feed ourselves– though they profit a few int he short term. If you haven’t seen it already, I suggest you and everyone reading this view the documentary, Food, Inc.

    • We can begin this action right at home by buying less period. And when something new has to be purchased we can look into how its made and the eco footprint the company has. The less you buy the easier it is to purchase with consciousness. Over consumption is the biggest contributor to pollution.

      • “Buying less period” and assessing what we truly need are two great ways to meet the excesses of consumerism in our society that we can each undertake. Thanks for passing this idea on.

  145. Reciprocity and balance are the most important things when it comes to nature and protecting it. Nature is full of balance – without some species, others would not eat. If we do not give back to the earth, some species would die. If we cut down trees, we should plant new ones. If we kill animals for meat, we should make sure that their offspring have time to reproduce, so no animals goes extinct due to overhunting. Humans need to learn to give back what they take.

    • Humans do indeed need to give back what they take– and do it in the same timespan as well. That is, if we cut a 500 year old tree, planting a new one does not compensate to replant that tree instantly.

  146. The river is always moving and flowing, the river that was a moment ago is no longer is. That is part of the problem that people feel they can toss the garbage into the rivers and oceans. The garbage is hidden(for a while) and contaminants can be invisible. I come from the Atlantic Ocean and I have always felt a deep connection with it. The crashing waves are very powerful and people who don’t understand the ocean deeply can get hurt. I never cared much for body surfing the waves but that is where I began but by age seven I had learned how to roll inside the crashing waves by going completely limp. I could land just above the sand, still floating within inches of water. So many times the lifeguards would run to my ‘rescue’ and I was told after many times of doing this I no longer could because I was scaring people. But I already knew the ocean deeply. I learned to hold my breath for a very long time and even learned on my own of the little extra breath that you can bring in even under water if you need it or just want to. By twelve I began to doing my roll with the waves after the lifeguards would leave at the end of the day and the beach was empty and quiet. It was a very personal experience for me with the sounds of the ocean under the surface, the feeling of being carried gently within the crashing wave. I stopped doing this around age sixteen and wasn’t going to the ocean as much anymore and not at all for many years. Two years ago, I brought my daughter into the ocean, tried to have her feel the buoyancy and how it would hold her up always if she were relaxed. I explained to her that if she went limp in a current and waited to be calm she could swim out without a problem. However, she was too distracted by the huge amount of garbage swirling around us. And I was sad. We both had rashes for days after that. There was a report a year or two back that scientists found out the whale songs had changed. They were slower and deeper world wide. The scientists had no idea why they said. Immediately I thought ” they are sad”.

    • Sad description of changing times–and experience of the end point of where we send all our garbage “away”.
      In the 1960s, the Clean Water Bill was so important to the US that it passed regardless of party lines. I would like to see the same happen with respect to cleaning things like endocrine disruptors out of our waters today. Something is seriously wrong when fish are found with eggs in their testes as is happened all over (cited in a recent PBS radio program on commemorating the Clean Water Act).

    • When i think of the river i remember a line from Pocahantas where she says that you never step in the same river more then once simply because it is always flowing. However, if people keep putting trash in water sources such as oceans and rivers then eventually animals are going to slowly start to die and then food sources that many people rely on for today will slowly decline and the sources will soon be no more. No matter what the future is to bring, we have to change the present if the future is to ever get better.

      • Good point, Jason. I am heartened by those who are working for responsible change in this regard. You are absolutely right that if we want a better future, we must act now to ensure it.

    • Wow! I love the connection you have to the Atlantic Ocean, I always felt a connection to the Pacific Ocean because that is where I live and although I am afraid to go body surfing in the ocean because of my ears, I love to walk a long the edge where I can feel the water and I will walk for a few miles and feel it on my feet and listen to it. I didn’t hear the ocean clearly until I was 24 and I had my first set of hearing aids and it was amazing because I actually heard how quiet it can be compared to other bodies of water.
      I can believe that whales get sad because of how we treat their habit. With all the oil spills and all the garbage we have dumped into all bodies of water, our wildlife is suffering because of what we have done.

      • Thanks for sharing these thoughts and feelings, Mary. And work with whale brains indicates that they do indeed have centers that are linked to the emotional parts of our own brains. No reason they couldn’t feel sad about the destruction of their habitat– or that many living creatures (without anthropomorphizing them) whose brains are not like ours have their own way of feeling such things.

  147. I am still enamored by the the idea of giving a “voice to the voiceless.” I think this is such a powerful concept and it really makes me think twice about my actions not only within my home, but the rest of my property as well. I have to make sure I’m not cutting up the habitat for any creatures in backyard and that I stop using harmful chemicals not only for my health, but for the health of my lawn and all of the animals who like to visit. I really want to be able to show my future grandkids the quail and the pheasants that run around in the country. I have noticed so many animals depleting in quantity as the years go on, and I want to be a part of a conscious effort to make sure they have a place in my life, even if it is in my backyard. It starts by changing perspectives and considering the what ifs of every voiceless creature.

    • With all the pesticides and other harmful chemicals being used around in such places as the lawn or anywhere outside it slowly depletes such animal species as the quail and pheasants that you mentioned above. These animals simply live of the land which we continue to pollute and damage. Obviously creatures don’t have a real voice that they can express so that’s why we have to be their voice for them.

      • Such toxins are taking a great toll on the quality of life in humans as well as the vibrancy of ecosystems. I cannot imagine how some of us seem to believe that we can put such toxins into our environment and not have it effect us as well as other lives.

    • Thanks for sharing your compassionate response: the accountability to all lives will assure that our grandchildren do have the world we both want them to inherit.
      Thanks as well for being part of the movement to change the perspective that licenses us to ravage our world and thus rob both future generations and other lives.

  148. It’s just outstanding how magestic and beautiful a river is and how benificial it can be to so many people who live off of it for both a food and water source. This is all being messed up due to faults by people who don’t view the river as an important source as do those who do. They pollute such sources and leave the mess for someone else to deal with. Also Global Warming doesn’t help when it threatens the life of those who rely so much on it to help them survive.

    • Good points, Jason. If we forget to honor the wonder and importance of our rivers, we create some negative consequences it will be very hard to remedy. Global warming is in the same category of negative consequences which ought to have us changing our behavior in response.
      It is dangerous thinking to assume that we needn’t be responsible for our own behavior in this regard.

  149. One way to definitely learn about Karma is how we treat the river. We are getting back what we dumped into it: we’ve dumped dangerous chemicals into rivers and now we have a higher chance of getting chemicals, you can get ear infections just by swimming in some of them (I bring this up because the first I lived out in Jewell I went swimming in the Nehalem and ended up with a bacterial infection that took forever to get rid of), and some of the frog species (and I am pretty sure other species) have been found to have mutations. We depend on the rivers so much for out livelihood and at the same time we cause them harm just to live a life that we find “comfortable.”

    • Perhaps we might share a vision that someday these rivers will be clean enough not only to safely swim in, but to drink their waters once again?
      As for the reciprocity involved in karma which you mention, it seems only ethical that we attempt to leave such rivers as clean as they were before we appeared and acted on them. It is our job to clean up what we dirtied–and this might help teach us it is easiest to prevent pollution before it takes place.

  150. Again, the consequences of our actions are harming us and we still choose to continue this destructive behavior. To love a rive is to view it a more than a vessel. To love a river is to understand the waters are not just for us but the animals and the ecosystem that depends on it.

    • I think people truly forget, or ignore, that the ecosystems even exist. I can’t figure any other explanation as to why our earth is treated so poorly, and then there is shock when things are turning out so badly.

      • Once again, our brains make us capable of wearing blinders so that we can sort out all the complexities of perception, but this can turn against us if we are not careful and conscious– which greed does not make us.

    • I completely agree with you, I have been to that town, I have seen its people and seen the changes that it and they have gone through over the years and it hurts to know that people so close to my home were responsible for their pain.

    • Good points, Melissa. Your response indicates that some of us are leaning better-hopefully more of us will learn this, even if we need to do so by suffering the consequences of our actions.

  151. I find the part about moving the river having such a detrimental effect on the ecosystem particularly fascinating. That humans would think they know better how to do things is laughable, seeing as how that has worked out for us in other avenues. A river is a river because that’s where it flows, not because someone put it there. I suppose the possible exception is the Intracoastal waterway which was man-made and cuts across florida from the east to west coast, but it doesn’t really flow so much as it’s there and murky between the coasts. It’s still not a great idea!

    • Good observation that there is a reason for the pathway of a river (as in contours and nature of the soil)– and moving it to suit our whims is irrational to say the least!

  152. This article actually leaves me disappointed, not because of the way that it ends with the Native Americans starting to get their river back that part is wonderful, but rather I am disappointed in my home. i am from Washington and all throughout my childhood I have memories of driving through Humptulips on the way to visit my Grandma and my grandpa back when he was still with us, the town itself is so very small but it is full of life with people always outside working in their yards and walking about. It disappoints me to learn that the city of Tacoma, a city which I grew up just a mere 5 miles away from is responsible for something so awful. I can’t understand how any place has the right to affect another town in such a way. That river supply was not just Tacoma’s and I now find myself feeling ashamed to call that place home.

    • Thanks for sharing your feelings and your experience about your home, Kelsey. The good news is that Tacoma is now behaving differently. And we might appreciate any entity (person or city) that learns from their mistakes and changes accordingly– even if it takes what might seem too long to us to do this and it takes a legal suit to put the change in motion.
      You must appreciate the geography behind Henry Cultee’s Humtulips heritage. And the few times I have driven through the little town that bears this name, there hasn’t been anyone out of doors. Maybe I just went at the wrong time?

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