12 June 2008

Redwoods and Rivers

I first lusted after the Trinity river 10 years ago, when traveling around the country, trying to decide where I wanted to spend my life. Driving along Highway 299, I looked up at the redwoods and firs and pines on the hills banking the river, then gazed down at the clear water and the run-able rapids, and thought, “I want in that water! Maybe I can get a job cooking for a river-running outfit.”

And then, Fourth of July weekend, 1999, I met the river-running outfit that would take me down the Trinity – as well as the Klamath, and the Rogue, and the Smith, and a bit of the Salmon. Michael Charlton, owner (with his wife, Wanda) of Redwoods and Rivers Rafting, had a booth at the Arcata Fourth of July festival. I signed up for a trip then and there.

My maiden voyage with Michael was the Pigeon Point run down the Trinity. I was so impressed by Michael (who has become a good friend over the years) that I refuse to even consider rafting with anyone else.

Why impressed? To begin with, I always feel safe. Rapids are fun, but I don’t run them for the thrill. I raft for the beauty and serenity of being on the water – for the mergansers with their ducklings scurrying upstream, the bald eagle swooping in for a fish and then carrying it back to the trees to eat, the endless Vs of green mountains when I look back upstream, the turtles basking on sun-baked rocks, the smell of white water. Michael and his guides (he runs a guide-training school, too) understand the beauty, are environmentally responsible, and are informative naturalists. They’re also gracious – rafting guests are always well fed and cared for.

Tuesday we spent a couple of hours on the Trinity. The water was running at about 2800 cfs (cubic feet per second). Shane, our guide, explained the flow as standing on the bank, looking across the river, and watching 2800 basketballs go by EACH SECOND. That’s a lot of basketballs. The powers that be are currently releasing enough water to keep the flow high; they are trying to mimic the natural spring flush of an undammed river. (For an interesting editorial on the politics of dammed rivers and diverting water to central and southern California for agricultural purposes – in this case, cotton – and the more sensible idea of keeping the water in the rivers so that they can heal – and even thrive! – see My Word by Aldaron Laird in the Times-Standard.)

I like Laird’s idea: “Perhaps the water in the Trinity should be used to recover and raise a bountiful crop of salmon on the North Coast, not cotton in the Westlands desert.” I’ve never quite understood the logic of perpetuating an economy that doesn’t fit its environment, such as raising water-dependent crops in areas that require importing water. Seems we’d all be better off if we work with what’s naturally available.

Which brings me to Michael and Wanda’s home. They purchased a number of acres along the Trinity, in Del Loma, a few years back. After rafting, Ronnie and I went back to their place for lunch, and to stay the night. I couldn’t get over how Wanda’s been landscaping the property! She’s collected river stones and built gardens everywhere: whimsical rock gardens studded with blue glass bottles and random objects; a small lawn bordered by a short rock wall and giant lavender bushes; and numerous rock-bordered flower gardens, one with a windmill. The tomato “cages” in the veggie garden are a cross-hatch of madrone branches, and the beans’ tipi is made of five long madrone limbs held together at the top with a rusted metal ring notched into them. Everything is made from resources found there on the property, or from scavenged items (“found art”).

Best of all, though, is Wanda’s version of a hammock. She’s hung a couple of old iron bed frames from the sturdy branches of yet another madrone, and thrown mattresses on them. We spent the night rocked to sleep beneath the madrone leaves, and woke in the early morning (thank you, Mr. rooster!) to the cheap-cheap-cheap of baby robins in their nest – almost directly above our bed – being fed by their robin parents.

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