Sunday, September 27, 2015

Many Rivers to Cross

 As a true-blue city dweller, I had never given much thought to rivers. But crossing the continent from west to east has given me a deeper perspective on rivers - not as just a source of water but as watery highways, carrying all those who have lived in North America, from the Native people to the fur trappers, settlers and those who came after them.

John Gardner said "There are only two plots, a stranger rides into town and a stranger rides out of town." I am not sure what category this falls into but how about this, "A woman looks at rivers."

Columbia River Gorge at Iron Horse Hill. We crossed the Columbia River here and I found it a very desolate place - all stone and rocks.

Wild Horse Hill - The road sign calls it Wild Horses Monument, but the real name of this artwork is "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies"-a tribute to the wild horses that once roamed the region.  And despite being begun in 1989, it’s still not complete! The trail was too steep for us to climb; besides, we were pushing on to the next stop. But this is not country where anybody, man or beast, could survive.

If Montana had a Yankee Stadium, the Yellowstone River would be it. Not only is the Yellowstone a fairly large river, it is over 200 feet wide in most parts and its peak flow is over 15,000 CFS. Oh, and, I haven't even mentioned that it begins in Yellowstone National Park, flows through Paradise Valley (aptly named for its majestic peaks), and the river is banked by cottonwoods and back-dropped by four distinct mountain ranges. It wove in and out of part of our trip back to Montana.

This is where the numerous references to Lewis and Clark began. I felt that we were haunted by their journey west, a difficult undertaking but so very important to our history. 

Missouri River. "There is only one river with a personality, a sense of humor, and a woman's caprice; a river that goes traveling side wise, that interferes in politics, rearranges geography, and dabbles in real estate; a river that plays hide and seek with you today and tomorrow follows you around like a pet dog with a dynamite cracker tied to his tail. That river is the Missouri."
-George Fitch

Headwaters of the Mississippi River - I didn't make it to the headwaters but I am still sharing this post with you. The Mississippi River was another one of our constant companions throughout the journey. "The road that runs beside the river follows the river as it bends along the valley floor, going the way it must.
Where water goes, so goes the road," ...Thomas Lux

 "Baby" Mississippi: American runs on the Mississippi.

The names are a litany to America: Little Missouri River, Marias River, Red River of the North. Minnesota River, Stony Creek. Little Otter Creek, Split Rock River, Sauk River, St. Louis River, Elk River, Crow River...Add the names of the native peoples - Cheyenne, Sioux, Chippewa, Ojibwe, Assiniboin, Blackfeet, Crow, Flathead - and you have the history of the American West (or part of it) for a millennia or more before the European settlers arrived.

"You see the current, which is
what the river is: the river
in the river, a thing sliding fast forward
inside a thing sliding not so fast forward." Thomas Lux

I loved the name of this river and thought it might have something to do with rum running but the reality is more prosaic - another instance of cultural misunderstanding. Rum River: The current English name is a mistranslation of the one given to it by the Mdewakanton Dakota (see Dakota) tribe. Though Watpa waḳaŋ (Spirit(ual)/Mystic River) in the Dakota language, by the late 18th-century Europeans interpreted the Mdewakanton Dakota name for the river not as "Spirit" denoting a mystical force, but instead as "spirit" denoting alcohol and ever since it has been known as the Rum River. (Wikipedia).

The road that runs beside the river follows the river as it bends
along the valley floor,
going the way it must.
Where water goes, so goes the road, ...Thomas Lux

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Beautiful pics and I loved the history tidbits along the way. Thanks, Nancy. Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!!!