Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The magic of rivers transports us across space and time - but can we keep the magic alive?

Ecuador's Rio Shiripuno: one of many magical
rivers I've journeyed upon.
In the book Wind in the Willows, author Kenneth Grahame wrote, "There’s nothing… absolutely nothing… half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats."

As someone who has been paddling for more than 50 years now, I can't disagree with that.

People often ask me if I prefer river trips to canoe circuits involving a chain of lakes and ponds. They are quite different types of trips, although they both involve water. The former involves starting at one point and finishing at another; the latter, travelling in a circle and returning to your original starting point.

They both have their good points, but the one thing that differentiates a river trip is the fact that it's an exciting journey that potentially sees you never return to where you begin from. That's not always the case, because you may end up shuttling back to your original starting point - but then again, you may not. On circuit trips you can often go either direction, clockwise or counterclockwise. Paddling in either direction can be l-i-t-t-l-e bit harder on a river unless you're on a really slow moving river. Paddling upstream - unless you're a salmon looking to spawn - is a lot of work and not the most pleasant kind of activity to engage in. 
Time to get wet again, on the Zambezi River!
(Photo by Zambezi Video Productions.)

Because of that, there is a magic to rivers, something you feel even if you don't paddle on one. When I was in high school, I used to walk past a river - the Holland River coming out of Fairy Lake in Newmarket - and there was always something about walking past that spot, especially during the spring runoff, that set my imagination to working. There is a timelessness to rivers, which is why they have the power to transport us across space and time. 

Often when you're paddling down a river in a canoe or kayak, you're paddling through history, because thousands of others have probably paddled there, most likely for several centuries. Many times when I canoe - and this is one of the aspects of all canoeing that really appeals to me - I like to imagine I'm a voyageur of old, heading into the wilderness for the Northwest Company, engaged in the fur trade of the late 18th and early 19th centuries across the wilds of Canada. 

My first canoe trips as a youth took me through areas in Ontario that were probably used by the voyageurs, although most of the paddling I did then was on lakes, ponds and very slow rivers.

Rollin' down the river - the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, that is

Since then I've gone on to paddle or travel on many rivers:

Because I have always loved being out in nature, on rivers and streams - and for that matter ponds and lakes - I developed an interest in conservation at a very early age. When I was 12, I decided to study forestry in university, to help conserve our natural resources. I started down that path but got sidetracked by a strong interest in journalism and broadcasting. 
One of the locals paddles a dugout canoe
on Borneo's Kinabatangan River.

However, my concern about the importance of conservation of our rivers is just as strong - if not stronger - than it was all those years ago. We ALL should be concerned. Water from rivers gives us life. Without it, life can be extremely difficult. It not only supplies water to drink but habitat for the fish we eat, as well as other animals that depend on the water and fish that live there to survive. 

That's why it's important to recognize and perhaps even attend a local event or two during World Rivers Day, which this year falls on Sunday, Sept. 27. 

There are several events going on at different venues in British Columbia to celebrate B.C. Rivers Day. For example, the city of Burnaby will host an event at the Burnaby Village Museum; the Fraser River Discovery Centre will host its annual Riverfest event, starting Thursday, Sept. 24 and running through until Saturday the 26th.

There are many other events all over the province, the country and the world, too numerous to list all of them here. But a quick search online should provide you with details about local events. Many involve music, conservation and nature displays, some paddle-oriented activities, and plenty of other stuff for families to enjoy - and learn about how we call can help keep our rivers healthy.

I started off with a quote, and I'll finish with one, by environmentalist and author David Brower.

"We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations."

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