Sunday, December 27, 2009

The River, a Moose, and my Grandpa

The following is a paper I wrote for a class last semester - it's an attempt at creative non-fiction using water as a symbol. I was supposed to keep it to 600 words, which is difficult but makes you force your writing to be better.

Filtering water shouldn't be this hard, I grumbled to myself.

My forearms throbbed, but I ignored the pain and continued to pump. Stopping mean there wouldn't be any clean water to drink that day, and there was no way I was drinking straight from the river. The bottom of the six inch side-pool that my pump drew from wasn't even visible.

I had wondered from time to time how the Green River got its name, and now it seemed obvious. Here, near the headwaters of the Green in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains, glacial silt gives the river its namesake color. No manufactured pigment can compare. Fish are rare, and the water is nearly opaque. The silt completely clogged my filter after one day, but the water I drank was clean.

The next day we searched for a clearer source. Through wide glacial valleys, the Green begins its journey toward the ocean. These valleys are nature’s half-pipe. The only lake within 10 miles was up and over the nearly impassable side, under the gaze of Square Top Mountain. This granite behemoth is visible for miles in all directions, a watchful protector of a precious resource. Upon arrival, we rested and caught so many fish that I grew tired of it. Nobody else crossed our path that day.

Downstream lies Flaming Gorge reservoir, which is a second home for me. It is a place where my cares dissipate and I enjoy both nature and my family. Memories here are as abundant as calories in a French fry. Even today, I remember where I built a stick fort as a child. I remember where my uncle saw the mountain lion. One year, beyond Skull Creek campground, my father and I stopped to rest and observe a herd of elk grazing on a distant mountain. Grass crunched as something approached us from behind. Casually turning to see what it was, a large, dark biomass with antlers the size of Maryland stared back. The moose ignored our existence as he walked briskly between us. We trembled and continued munching on our trail mix. Maybe he was scared, too.

My late grandpa comes to mind whenever I’m here. I remember card games and campfires. “Keep the fire in the fire!” he would scold whenever I torched various sticks which I had found exploring earlier that day. Once, we took a German exchange student boating through the scarlet cliffs of Red Canyon. His eyes were wider than chicken eggs. I guess stupendous cliffs are rare in Niedersachsen.

As it continues downstream, the Green descends a desert staircase. Winding through sandstone canyons, it continually hones the formations that make southern Utah famous.

Recently, as two of my fellow desert rats and I approached Moab, we turned go up the highway that runs parallel to the Green, toward Castle Valley. On the right side of the road, there is a pipe that comes straight out of the cliff. It’s tradition to fill Camelbaks here. The water was clean and delicious. This time, we were all disappointed to see that the pipe is dry. Perhaps pollution forced the government to turn it off. I heard there was a uranium mine nearby. Maybe no one actually got sick, and some bureaucrat just didn't want to risk liability. Whatever the cause, my trips won't be the same.

Like the glacial valleys and sandstone it cuts through, the Green River has helped shape me. It supports life everywhere it goes. It provides places of solitude, adventure, and refuge. The river is constantly changing the world around it, and man is constantly changing the river for himself.

That moose is gone. My grandpa is gone. The river remains.

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