Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walking Talking River

Santa Fe RiverSince last spring's knee surgery, I haven't been able to indulge in my hiking habits enough. It's a tough constraint to deal with, since the trails around Santa Fe and the natural beauty throughout New Mexico are some of the best reasons to live here. Recently, finally, I got the green light from medical personnel to embark on a short, not too steep, hike.

Short? Not too steep? That ruled out the Atalaya trail and other trails that I've hiked before. Instead, I decided to immerse myself in nature again with a riverside walk. I had a sunny hour on Memorial Day weekend, and set out along a dirt path on the riverbank. Imagine my surprise when I found that there was water in the river! Children were in bathing suits, wading and splashing and creating sandy structures. I was able to get down to the riverbed itself, gaze at the foliage, listen to birds and insects, and, I admit, talk to the river.

Rivers are my favorite bodies of water—soothing, conducive to contemplation, and if it's swimmable, a lot of fun. Perhaps this has led me to the strange compulsion to talk to the river whenever I'm near one. (Is it really much crazier than talking to your malfunctioning computer or the slow car in front of you?) The next week, I hiked to a place where the water rips through sandstone, chatting away with the river the whole way. I spent the week after that looking forward to continuing the conversation. I got to the river, and it was gone! In its place was a rain-damp riverbed, but no river. I was sad, angry, and probably a little loopy, talking to the soggy sand instead of wild running water.

Rio en Medio WaterfallI admit that my background is in history and literature, not water rights or riparian ecology, but it seems that turning the river on and off like that just isn't healthy or helpful. Have I read Siddhartha too many times? Maybe reading Desert Solitaire last summer, on a couch with iced and elevated knee rather than in wilderness, has caused lingering emotional trauma.

Thankfully, there are local organizations that work on these issues, without the dubious logic of an anthropomorphic river. The Santa Fe Watershed Association's Santa Fe Living River Initiative is working with the City of Santa Fe to have a living, running river year round. In the meantime, I may just have to brave a hike to the Rio en Medio waterfall to converse with some wild running water.

Photo of the Santa Fe River courtesy of the City of Santa Fe website.

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