When we lived on the Western slope of Colorado, we passed or crossed the Eagle River every day. She cut the valley that was our home and there wasn’t really any way to travel, but beside her. One didn’t have to travel far in our valley to reach her end, where she married the mighty Colorado, that great river of adventure. I love both rivers, but oh how I love the Colorado — a from the banks kind of love: running alongside her, camped above her, traveling hundreds of miles while never straying far from her shores, where she carved canyons and ran muddy red. It is the Colorado that made me so keen on the way a river dances with the land and shapes the earth and us in so many ways.
So that is how it began. And now I live and love somewhere new, where I don’t know the creeks and rivers so well. It takes time to walk the land and create that soul map of how the soil and the rocks and the water fit together. I’ll get there. I will. But just recently, on our trip home from the Midwest, I realized I may not be as far as I thought.
You see if I walk down the road a ways from our home, I’ll hit a drainage that pours right into the Big Thompson River. That big river travels east, through majestic canyons flanked by big-horn sheep and summer tourist territory and, where the land gets flat, she merges with the South Platte River. The South Platte moves north to the far northeast corner of the state, where flat is really flat, before joining the North Platte River. Together, as the Platte River, they flow across the entire length of Nebraska, snaking their way through cottonwood forests that are flanked for miles and miles by grasslands and cornfields in all directions. The Platte keeps flowing eastward until she meets that rough state boundary Nebraska shares with state of Missouri. There the Missouri river, the longest river in the country having journeyed far from the foothills of Montana, swallows the Platte’s waters and carriers them right across the state of Missouri to St. Louis, where, finally, those waters, those waters that I walked to from my front door, join the Mississippi.
Now this is grand! The watershed of my home in Colorado and the watershed of my Midwestern roots are one and the same. I have leaped over the headwaters of the Mississippi, crossed her bridges too many times to count, and listened to tales of her floods. I love that river deep, deep down. As I wander our mountain streams, I’ll always be thinking, a little bit, of the green hills and the muddy river that are just down stream.
“I am haunted by waters.”
– Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It