Hells Canyon, entrance—early Spring . . . Northeast Oregon / Idaho
On the road in the Northwest of America.

On Snake River Country, the Sacred
& the Watercourse Way . . .

What strikes me most about the admittedly small part of the Snake River
watershed I have actually seen is the present disharmony between
the immensity of spirit manifest in the seemingly endless cascade
of canyons, waterfalls and cliffs, and the chilling meanness of spirit
evidenced by what man in his short-sighted folly has wrought upon
the life-blood of one of the world's great rivers. The contradiction is strident
beyond all imagination. To me, it is like the mindless rounding up of all
the precious instruments of a Vivaldi or Mozart symphony of strings
and smashing them. Smashing them, yes. Trashing all the violins,
the violas, the 'cellos, the basses, for the wood to burn as fuel. There
is light, yes. Yes, there is warmth. But at what cost? At what loss?

The large-scale hydroelectric dams of the 20th century appear to me
as relics of the era that brought us World War II. Like the German
Wehrmacht's bunkers still scattered about the sandy, peaceful North Sea
beaches of Holland I walked in my youth—structures that only with great
difficulty can be removed—they are clear signs of man's futile attempts
to order his universe through the extremes of violent division and
brute-force control.

From North to South, this week's photos cover the area
above, outlined roughly by the three Snake River Dams:
Hells Canyon, Oxbow & Brownlee.

But the mistakes of the past, when we understand them, become the
cheerful challenges of restoration that thrill any young person's heart.
No, not man the destroyer of habitats, but man the creator. For me, the
new natural energy path is the watercourse way, a way which adapts
itself to,
and moves with and not against the grain of what is, like a skilled
woodworker shapes the light sounding board of spruce, or carves a violin's
strong backside of solid maple. 50 years ago, when many of these insanely
megalithic dams were built, a worldwide web of interlinked computing
machines was mere fantasy. Now, it is reality. We need now a parallel,
equally sophisticated, complementary revolution in natural energy

There is in my view but one barrier to this. It is a barrier which is at
present tragically and arbitrairily limiting and corrupting our collective
creative capacity just as we need it most. This barrier or block is a kind
of inner or psychological dam which is as powerful—if not more so— as
the reinforced concrete of the Hells Canyon Dam just a few river miles
downstream from the camp at which I write down these thoughts. In a
word, we are in a self-destructive manner holding onto the mistakes of the
past. And we do this because we see them as our only safe and sure
guarantee of future security. Outwardly, this block is manifested in the
fact that democratic governments everywhere, but most especially in the
United States, have evidently become mere subsidiaries of vast
concentrations of old-energy oil wealth. And these deep, vested, special
interests are not about to give up the structures which are in place to pump
every last dollar out of hydrocarbons until the resource is totally exhausted.
If you don't think Exxon-Mobile will continue on its present policy of viciously
enslaving the Earth until it ends up extracting oil from the bones of the dead,
then—don't take my word for it—it's time you turn off your television
and go on a cross-country walk and find out for yourself!

The way to heal this block is simple. It's a two-fold approach: (1) A return
to government 'for the people, by the people, of the people' by extirpating
all money from politics. Not one dollar, one vote; but one person, one vote;
(2) Don't fight; Demonstrate the alternative. In my view, the best defense
of Nature is not to attack what we perceive as 'our opponents,' but to
actually show or make physically manifest the better way. So as we
walk the extra mile and turn the other cheek, we conserve enough
creative energy to generate thousands of new jobs with the design and
deployment of high-tech windmills, and begin putting ever-more
sophisticated solar panels on every roof. There are already shining
beacons of inspiration on the not-that-distant horizon. Denmark already
wins 15 percent of its total energy consumption with wind; And
Germany is close behind. And most importantly, they have both in a
simple direct way made the complete conversion to renewables a
matter of law. (See German's EEG legislation.) North Americans, young
and old, should go there to learn from them. And young Danes and
Germans should start walking the world and biking through the U.S.
to spread the good news.

But the reader may ask, "Isn't hydropower clean energy?" No it is not
clean. At least, not at the immensity of scale demonstrated in the great
Columbia / Snake River Basin. The size of these projects is dwarfed
only by the ignorance evidenced in the horrendous havoc they have
in but a single generation wrecked upon the entire hydrologic cycle.
In my view, it is not just salmon that are at stake here. That would be
catastrophe enough in itself. But what is worse is that the destruction
of the natural water cycle is most certainly a major factor in the evident
permanent drying out and climate chaos manifest in the Intermountain
Northwest. (And, as should be added with great emphasis, in the
European Alps as well.) The ways of water are subtle and mysterious
indeed. Some would say sacred. But we need to begin the era not of
habitat destruction but of habitat restoration and creation not just by
taking down the dams, but by first and foremost taking down the inner
dams which block a fundamental change of heart. What we need is an
esprit nouveau, or new spirit, one which comes to order and harmony
and intelligence by, step by step, removing the wasteful psychological
blocks caused by patently outmoded ways of perception.

There is, in closing here, a certain pressing urgency. For we can
only continue down our present path of, to return to our first image,
smashing violins, for so long. At a certain point, there will be no one
left to teach the young how to build new and better instruments, or
how to work together to achieve a more complete and divine harmony
of ensemble. And as the noise of political bickering and obfuscation,
and deliberate media whitewashing and attack fills the air, the living
sound of wild, rushing water shall pass silently and all but unnoticed
into the eternal nowhere of extinction.

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Big Bar—
Snake River
Snake River at
after storm

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Photograph by Cliff Crego © 2008 picture-poems.com
(created: III.17.2008)