What and where is the most powerful or fun or harrowing experience you’ve ever had with water?
Running the Chattooga in 1973 as a 16-year-old Outward Bound student with Pason Kennedy (the stunt double for Burt Reynolds in the movie Deliverance about running the same river). His confidence on the drops, as well as his playfulness, remain a lifetime inspiration. On our second day out, after one particularly thrilling drop, we came upon a crowd of locals (some of whom looked like the extras from Deliverance) staring into the river as if they’d lost something. Pason pulled us all to a stop, swam into midstream with a rope, and tied it to a body in the rapid and the locals pulled the bloated corpse to the river side. The young man had drowned two weeks earlier and despite many searches, bloating had just recently forced the corpse to the surface. After that encounter, we had to paddle across the recently impounded waters of Lake Tugalo to the dam and our take out. Although Pason successfully cheered us all up on that long, still water paddle by initiating a great water fight, I was struck by the obvious parallels of a man exceeding his limits and paying the ultimate price, while mankind too had exceeded its limits, killing the river for the sake of hydro electricity.
What property of water most fascinates you? How did your appreciation of this property affect your book?
In part because of that early encounter, and a body river recovery 11 years later in the wilds of Alaska where I worked in rescues, I have always been intensely aware of the power of river rapids. This has naturally made me a timid boatman, perhaps happier to admire a rapid then to run it. As a consequence, I wrote about the Colorado River with respect and awe, as a place that mere mortals need to revere, and where we go to find humility.
What attitude did you have about water and people that changed in the course of researching and writing your book?
As a neophyte to all things Colorado River several years ago, I had no idea of the complexities of its human management and diversions until I paddled its entire length and explored the use of its water throughout the basin. I was moved by the dedication of city planners, boatman, engineers, and other varied water workers along the way. For instance, I discovered scores of restoration sites (often staffed by volunteers) from headwaters to sea. I was chagrinned however that most people involved in water tend to focus on their own locale or specific rights, rather than viewing the river as an ecologic whole or a living body that lacks appropriations. This was a head turning attitude change, because at the beginning, I assumed that people would not only know that the river didn’t reach the sea (many don’t), but that they would care about how we could affect change.
In writing your book, what was the greatest difficulty you encountered in conveying the feeling of what you’ve learned about water and people?
To make people care that the river no longer reaches the sea.
What is your favorite image/passage in your book?
Pete McBride’s photo that spans pages 8-9 of the dried out river delta in the Sonora, Mexico. This image to me is not necessarily about the end of a river because for me, it evokes the power of a place still frequented by 360 bird species, with a sense of infinite sky and possibilities about how we can restore the river once more to the sea.
What is your hope for Colorado and the World’s water future?
For people to care about rivers and to know, when they drink a glass of water, precisely where it comes from.
What is your favorite water book by another author?
Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
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