Monday, May 18, 2015

Cry Me A River

This is my river. The Jordan. No, not the biblical Jordan. Just one of its four American namesakes. It's a third of the length of the original and doesn't carry a tenth of the prestige when all the rivers get together to care themselves. But it's similar enough to merit the name Jordan. They both flow from a freshwater body to a Dead Sea, never mind that theirs is both deeper and saltier. We merit the other half of the name, too. River. Yes, the stretch of it I can see from my kitchen window is only ten feet across in parts. Yes, there are bigger ditches and flooded roads across the world. But it's a river, and it's mine, so don't let me here you talking bad about it.
Awhile back I took my dog for a walk along my river. As he stopped to measure the algae levels with his tongue, I sat on the bank and thought about my life. My problems and the ones I see my friends going through. My problems and the wars and rumors of wars around the world. There are places in the world where kids have to cross rickety rope bridges to get an education on the other side of their rivers. There are rivers that run dry. There are rivers that flood. My river and my problems seem small by comparison.
So is my dribbly ditch still worthy of riverhood? I'll say yes. Everyone needs rivers, and in desert Utah we can't afford to be picky. 
I threw a rock across the water. It was so shallow, I watched it sink to the scummy bottom, and I got to thinking about the greatest river I've ever been on, the Colorado.

The Colorado is one of the largest rivers in the US. It flows through seven states, five American and two Mexican. It's the Colorado that chiseled away patiently for thousands of years to carve the Grand Canyon. For the last few millennia there have been humans living alongside it. 40 million humans depend on it today. In addition to people, it feeds everything from sheep ranches to hydroelectric dams. So even if you only see rivers for what they give YOU, you're still dependent on it for fleece and power. 

Give said the little stream
Give oh give
Give oh give
Give said the little stream
As it hurried down the hill 
I'm small I know
But wherever I go
The grass grows greener still
Singing, singing all the day
Give away, oh give away
Singing, singing all the day
Give oh give away

Those are the words of a song I learned in church as a girl. It's my song as much as it's my river. We're taught to be selfless, like that little stream, and like the mighty Colorado. But what toll does all this giving take on the poor river?
One thousand four hundred and fifty miles of water. It stretches from the Colorado Rockies to world's largest ocean. Sometimes. After all that damming and drinking and sheeping, the Colorado River runs dry. By the time it reaches the Pacific it can barely lick at the sand. In the last fifty years it's only reached the sea a handful of times. Each year when I visit Lake Powell, one of the many pockets of water sucking moisture from the Colorado, I see this great white bathtub ring around the edges, a reminder of what it's lost.
Maybe the Colorado's happy to give. All those drinkers and dammers and ranchers, what would they do without it? And the Pacific certainly doesn't miss it. There are plenty of other rivers to feed it. But maybe, just maybe, the Colorado would like to kiss the sea again. 

Last week I was driving home in the rain when I saw a guy I knew walking the road alone. It was a vertical river, and a light one at that, but I don't like watching people drown. So I drove a few more seconds and pulled over, too far ahead to put a puddle in his path. 
"No one walks alone in the rain," I told him, and he got in my car. 
Turns out, his course wasn't a long one. I pulled into his driveway and watched him shoot off his mouth as the sun dried the concrete around us. 
He talked about people, and his problems, and his problems with people. How depressed people need to suck it up and realize everyone has problems. How cutters need to put down their dripping blades and start acting healthy. How they shouldn't cry out for help as they drowned because if they had air to scream they weren't drowning in the first place. 
He had so many problems, but what he didn't seem to realize was that he'd become one of mine. I let him out and went home to my river.
There are two great lessons we can learn from rivers. One is that we all have problems. There are Poor Starving Children in Africa who don't have rivers. And on the other side of Africa a village just got flooded.
The second is that we can't keep give-oh-giving all the live long day. There comes a time when you don't want to be the constant faucet to a constant drain.
We all have rivers. Maybe yours is deep, and his is long. Maybe his is long, and hers is rapid. Maybe hers is rapid, and mine is salty. Every river has its problems, is its problems-but don't you dare thing you're the only one out there with a river.

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