What's Tony Thinking

The Lure of Water


You may have noticed that I’ve not posted a new blog for a while (possibly a relief!). That is partly accounted for by having been on a river rafting trip this week. A group of us took to the Grande Ronde River here in Northeastern Oregon.

The name “Grande Ronde” is a reminder that this was a French territory at one time. Remember the “Louisiana Purchase” of 1804?

Another reminder of that presence is the name given the native population, Nez Perce. It meant “pierced nose.” The Nez Perce name for themselves was different. It was Niimiipuu, which means simply, “the people” or “we the people.”

But the same French explorers who dubbed the Niimiipuu, the Nez Perce, also named the Grande Ronde River. The Grande Ronde has its headwaters in the Blue Mountains to the south and west. It does make a grand half circle north and east before flowing into the Snake River, which forms the border between Oregon and Idaho.

The section we rafted is  designated a “Wild and Scenic River.” That means there are no motorized boats, no wires, houses, roads or any other aspects of human settlement. Nor is the river dammed at any point, so the flow is unimpeded and natural. It is spectacularly beautiful.

It was, I think, the sixth time I’ve done this trip. I never get tired of it.

On the trip I found myself thinking about the way that I am drawn to water. At home in Seattle, I enjoy kayaking in the nearby Puget Sound. This May I did a four mile trip over from Seattle to Blake Island, camping there one night with sons and grandsons before paddling back the next day.

On the way over the waters of the Sound were so calm as to be boring. Piece of cake, I thought. Quite different on the return. Currents moving in multiple directions. Not boring. Waves breaking over the side.

Here I love these rafting trips, as well as hiking along fast-moving, mountain rivers and sometimes fishing them. At higher elevations, the 55 “high lakes” of the Wallowa Mountains beckon the backpacker forward as toward a shining oasis.

What is it about water that calls to us? There’s the beauty of it. The sun on the water. The dancing light and shifting patterns. The rapids and the still places. The rhythm of the waves.

There’s also an element of danger, whether to river rafting or kayaking. Water, source of life, can also be a source of death. A river is a powerful thing. Earlier this year, a person drowned on the Grande Ronde.

At the time of our trip the water level in the river was dropping. Most of the snowpack is now melted. But still, there were sufficient rapids and hairy moments to remind me that you can find yourself in trouble on a river.

Beauty and danger are part of the lure of water. But also the unseen world. The world beneath the surface. Unless you are snorkeling or diving in Hawaii or some similar place the world beneath the water remains largely unseen, mysterious. You may get a glimpse beneath the surface, but other times it is like looking into a mirror.

What is unseen prompts wonder. What is in these depths? What lurks beneath the surface? In this way water is a religious or spiritual presence. It speaks to us of a world we do not see, or see clearly, but which exists. Beyond our reach, beyond our control. It tells us that there is another dimension.

Such is the lure of water.

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