A River Runs Through It

The following is something I wrote a few years ago, during a winter in Spokane:

Yesterday afternoon I bundled up and walked to the park downtown, ostensibly to jog, but after less than a quarter mile of running down the path, I got to my favorite bridge and got caught in the sun.

The waters were high from runoff after our big snowstorms in December. Though I’m sure it was well under 40 degrees, it felt like springtime because the sun was shining. When was the last time I felt the sun on my face? Over Christmas weekend at my mom’s I took a nap with the sun shining through the windows, but outside, with sun and fresh air and mist from the river – it’s been a long time.

The Spokane River is sick. The Upper Falls that I stood at often run dry in the summer because they’re fed by our aquifer, and much of the water is also diverted to the hydroelectric plants. Low water levels means the river’s toxicity rises. Meanwhile, Lake Coeur d’Alene to the east brings heavy metals through the river in Spokane.

Our area’s Indian tribes considered the falls to be sacred; my favorite scene in Smoke Signals culminates in Victor releasing his father’s ashes into the falls right where I stood.

I think one of the key elements in my life is moving water. (Feel free to interpret this according to my status as an Aquarius; bear in mind I also do not know how to swim.) Be it river or ocean, I get a little stir-crazy unless I can stand next to a powerful body of water from time to time. I feel this way about mountains, too, but I think I could sooner survive without those than I could in the middle of a desert. Standing in front of a rushing river or a vast ocean reminds me of my own mortality more than any other natural feature that I can think of, makes me realize that “nought may endure but mutability,” lets all the noise in my brain shrink down to a reasonable size as I take in something very much bigger than my life.

So my jog turned into a stroll and then I stood at the bridge for at least fifteen minutes, silently looking with my elbows resting on the rail and my face turned toward the sun.


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