Monday, May 28, 2007

River people

Last weekend I went to the National River Rally east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. It was an incredible place and an amazing event.

Hundreds of river people were gathered in one place. Others might use the label "river people" disparagingly, but those of us attending wore it with pride.

There were scientists. Watershed coordinators. Academics. Bureaucrats. Activists. Tribal representatives. Fish people. Pollution fighters. Bug lovers. Kayakers. Anglers. Water recyclers. Water planners. Business owners. Nonprofit managers. Young. Old. Boomers. Millenials. People from Alaska. People from the North, East, Midwest, West, South and Southwest . . . All joined by a love of rivers and the water that flows through them to shape our land.

When you talk to people from the inner city -- places like the Bronx and Baltimore -- who are trying to bring back the life in their polluted urban rivers, you cannot help but be newly reminded what a gift we have in our Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers.

As one American Indian speaker pointed out, the rivers came first. Before the people, before the towns, before "civilization."

We forget that too often. Our land was shaped by the native people who lived here for thousands of years before us, and it has been further shaped by those who arrived during the Gold Rush and everyone who came after.

But before people began to "manage" this land, the rivers and creeks carved our deep canyons, shaped our hills, nourished our fish and wildlife, and set the stage for us. Just like our historical sites -- the mines, the towns, the rock walls -- our rivers are our heritage. They are part of who we are.

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