April 21 – R – Rio (Spanish for River)
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman Maclean ~ A River Runs Through It
In my youth I was held captive by the river world of Tom and Huck hiding out on the Mississippi River. Twain stole my innocence as he made me long to be a runaway with the lads, exploring the mysteries of the river that moved through places and time. Such a grand serpentine waterway was elusive, haunting, unpredictable, and ever-changing; best of all, it would transport me into unknown territories to fuel my desire for wanderlust, wonder and adventure.
I sought such an escape, satisfyingly so, in the creeks, ponds, and lakes of my own hometown in North Bay, Ontario, which at the time seemed to lack the grandeur of the Mississippi, but pacified my wanderlust enough to make me feel that my waters were mysterious enough, and in truth was happy that my waters were not nearly so murky or dangerous as the mighty Mississippi. Ever since those days of escape into the water – both in my imagination and my play – I have been spiritually beguiled and enraptured with the nature of water.
I must admit that as an adult I have always longed to return to the wilds of youth, on and in the water, particularly the familiarity of my fresh waters from Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing; longingly reminiscing about the idylls of those lost childhood days. Finding myself always near rivers, but never near my childhood lakes, I felt cheated in life because the river just wasn’t filling my soul the way a lake would. The foreign allure of Twain’s Mississippi had been lost and my heart sought the greener grasses, or rather that deep blue freshness, of northern Ontario delights.
That was until my imagination was reignited this past year with my wanderings, initially to the Bow River in Calgary and now to the river delta of Argentina. In Calgary, the floods of June 2013 took a surreal reckoning against the landscape and the city; the gentle glacier river had resounded it thunderous roar and became a force to remind us of its power and presence. Through the summer and into the fall I witnessed the transformative potency of these waters that raged in my city, in both the landscape and my spiritual perspective. In the autumn I took my creative writing class to the river each week for River Writing, a whim that became a powerful entity in our writings and in our creative spirits. We all became spellbound in appreciation for the beauty of this life-surging vein of nature.
Now that the river spirit is imbued within me, I have come to have a whole new respect, love, and awe for rivers, and that has transformed my experience in the landscapes of Santa Fe, Argentina during this journey of living abroad. In the past I had viewed, and I am ashamed to admit, the tangled web of streams, ponds, lagoons, small and large rivers of these Pampa plains as a cluster of murky, mosquito-infested swampland. But the magic of Twain’s river world is renewed within me, and I now see in these South American waters a thriving eco-system that is purposeful, mysterious, savage, and so beautiful!
I love that as I walk daily along the Costanera that I get to see the humble fishermen out in the lagoon rowing into the centre and capturing the most delightfully mild river fish. Other days I see the sailors and kayakers challenging the power of the wind as the river carries them downstream with such power. And as I wrote about in my K post, the thrill of kitesurfing where the water and the wind meet with an awe-inspiring sport. We have tasted the finest fish dishes in Vuelta del Pirata in the heart of the river delta, we have boated on her waters, and we have meandered alongside various tributaries. This is a land where people depend on the rivers, love the rivers, and know how to play on the rivers.
No matter where we go in the region, this river system (second largest in South America next to the Amazon) that originates in the tropics of Brazil prevails as the constant interplay between civilization and nature plays out its fate. Just this summer, on Christmas Day, the weather was one of the hottest of summers on record and these tropical waters became infested with palometa piranhas – a flesh-eating fish – that attacked over 70 people along the Parana River in Rosario, a city just two hours south of Santa Fe. Some people lost fingers and toes in the attack. However, this is not a normal experience here, but that fact didn’t ebb my horror-movie fears of the potential dangers of the waters. There is also an old story of a jaguar (from the early 19th century) that washed ashore in a flood and killed a monk in the sacristy – the claw marks on the alter remain in the church museum today.
Santa Fe too is no stranger to the floods that shocked the Canadian west last year. Living in a tropical floodplain makes you far more experienced with the deadly power of the rivers, as is seen in these satellite photos below where you can see how the water permeates the land so easily. With the torrential rains of March, we too have witnessed the swollen waterways that penetrate into the landscape, overtaking humans attempt to live and play alongside it – but here it is just another way in the life of a city that encroaches on such a water-permeated landscape; cyclicly the river will always reclaim its supremacy.
Just as river claims its place in nature, it too lays claim within me. What began as childhood play in the forest creeks behind my home, evolved in a Twain-like adolescent escape into the lakes that abound in and around my hometown, and devolved into a romanticized Twainish gypsy-like wanderlust to various city rivers – from Ottawa, to Stratford, to Kitchener, then onto Hartford, and now Calgary and Santa Fe – with each waterway attempting to wash me onto its shores and claim its place as my home waters. I have travelled these rivers across the various landscapes and I believe I have found the shores of the Bow in Calgary and the Parana with the Setubal Lagoon in Santa Fe as my new home waters, a place where I’m feeling my roots embedding in the soils of these ancient and majestic rivers, roots that parallel the ones I sowed in the lake beds of North Bay.
Whether in the tropical rios of Argentina, or the glacier rivers of the Rocky Mountains, or the land of the lakes in North Ontario, I’m humbled and grateful to be imbrued in my life by such beautiful natural environments that abound with fresh waters that have carved out their existence well before and well after mine, but have permitted me a time, a place, and spirit alongside them while I am here.