Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Nov 7, 2011

Funny how the mind works, and what things trigger it into the direction it takes.  But no matter where you go, it always goes with you. Ok, sometimes when high on a cliff side hunting chukar it might seem like you have lost your mind. Especially when you choose to take the more dangerous route rock climbing with all fours to save time, as opposed to the safer, but longer back-tracking route, does craziness begin to register.

But the other day when I was out in the middle of nowhere hunting chukars, I saw a huge spire that had always been visible from the river, but I had never seen before. At least, not until I saw it from a different angle and high advantage  on an opposing hill where it became much more noticeable.  It added to the feeling that I had entered some mysterious fantasy world, where it might even be possible there could exist some sort of  chukar hobbits.. I was inspired. OK, oxygen depleted.

In addition, it added to the wonderful feeling of being far away from civilization where one can still appreciate the value og undiluted purity of air, where it actually pleases the lungs to fill at full capacity. What a great place to escape the woes of our more populous industrial pollutions of the  world.  Or so it seems.

This isolated feeling triggered my mind to go back to a long ago memory of a similar time in another remote region of neighboring canyon country. I was guiding for Grand Canyon Dories, and it was my turn to kick back, while other guides took guests on a hike in Hells Canyon. I chose to enjoy my brief reprieve sitting in my dory boat floating around in a large eddy above Granite Rapids.  It was so cool. Every view was awesome, and bobbing around in the dory made me feel like a much closer part of the river.

Having always been active in fighting for various fish/wildlife/land and water issues over the years had been taking a toll on me. I always thought back about what Aldo Leopold (father of wildlife management) said about biologists (which I had trained to be): “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make-believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Everywhere around me I had seen that as human numbers increased, habitats for fish and wildlife were diminished. Subdivisions subdued winter ranges, industrial smoke stacks dim visibility, hamper breathing,  and on and on.  I was tired of being like an ecological doctor and so had checked out mentally of paying attention to the politics of the day. I did not watch tv or  read newspapers for over two months time,  and tried to avoid encountering anything negative caused by humans by escaping to the natural world. So, sitting in that eddy, alone, in my dory, I had found paradisiacal freedom.

But, then I had a semi-epiphany. What if I continued on to  live in my dream world, not paying attention to what the outside world was doing? What could be the harm in that? Well, people could be making decisions that could lead to damming the river I was on, then my paradise would come crumbling down.  Could I make a difference? How could only one person make a difference?  Then I thought about the impacts of Rachael Carson and her book Silent Spring.  She alone helped birds of prey by fighting the pesticide industry through her words and action. Every persons vote counts, because ultimately, it only takes one vote to break equilibrium.

So, it was time for me to start paying attention again, to the politics of people and our effects on the natural world.  Thus is the medicinal value that wild places bring to peace of mind. We need these places to at least temporarily escape the harshness of the everyday routine of scurrying around trying to make a living.  And to think, all this cerebral rambling inspired by one spooky spire on the slopes of the Salmon River.  From chukar hunting to river running, my convoluted thoughts continue to swim in the eddies of my mind. No matter where I go, the center of my circle is everywhere. Once I get my medicine I can go anywhere to be everywhere, and somewhere to be nowhere.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
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