Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rollin' on the River

I guess it all blew up in Missoula
There just was no other way
After months of goin crazy, there was nothin left to say
But when the dust had finally settled
And the air had quickly cleared
Whoa, things were better off than I had feared

jimmy buffett and greg taylor, 1977

To see and hear Jimmy Buffet perform this song, click here.

The Big Blackfoot River
Taken 7/25/09
Johnsrud Park, Montana

NOTE PLEASE: Clicking on any photograph will open a full-screen version of that photo in a separate window. All links also open in a separate window. Finally, should you be so inclined, you can see these photos and more taken on the river, but unedited, on my Picasa website.

Arguably, the most famous book ever set in Missoula is Norman Maclean's 1976 A River Runs Through It. Now the river in the title is metaphorical, but the actual river on the banks of which much of the story is set is the Blackfoot River. Early in the story, Maclean writes:

Paul and I fished a good many big rivers, but when one of us referred to "the big river" the other knew it was the Big Blackfoot. It isn't the biggest river we fished, but it is the most powerful, and per pound, so are its fish. It runs straight and hard--on a map or from an airplane it is almost a straight line running due west from its headwaters at Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide to Bonner, Montana, where it empties into the South Fork of the Clark Fork of the Columbia. It runs hard all the way.

Speaking from very personal experience, I can vouch for that last statement. When I took my river canoeing class, the final "exam" was to run a seven mile stretch of the Big Blackfoot from Whitaker Bridge to Johnsrud Park. As we neared Thibodeau Rapids, our instructor made us beach our canoes, and walk downstream to reconnoiter. Pointing to two rocks on the left side of the current, he said "That's where you'll capsize." I'm proud to say that of the twelve boats in our class, eight did capsize, but mine was the only one to capsize on the rocks. The others flipped over long before they reached our own personal Scylla and Charybdis. It was at least a quarter mile before I was able to get my feet under me and clamber out of the fast-moving water. Never again will I underestimate the power of a river.

All set to float the river
Taken 7/25/09 at Johnsrud Park
Blackfoot River, Montana

Not that I should have. Like Maclean, I grew up in a parsonage. My father, like Maclean's, was a minister (Methodist, not Presbyterian) and a fly-fisherman who tied his own flies. Oh yes, Maclean's book spoke volumes to me. And the river that ran through my father's early life, if not my own, was the Ohio. I grew up with many stories about life on the Ohio, but the most vivid concerned my mother's younger brother, Virgil Stephens. In 1946, Virgil and two friends were canoeing on the Ohio and their canoe capsized. While his two friends clung to the overturned boat, Virgil swam for help and drowned. His two friends were saved. I can't tell you what a powerful story that is when you hear it over and over again at a young age.

He actually made two extra jumps just so I could catch him in the act
Taken 7/25/09 at Johnsrud Park, Blackfoot River, Montana

I've spent a good bit of time on rivers in my life. Those streams which speak most clearly to my soul are the Bitterroot, the Yellowstone, the Madison, the Missouri--all in Montana, the Sacramento and the Smith in California, the Columbia, the Ohio, and, yes, the Big Blackfoot. I've probably spent more time on the Blackfoot than any other river. I've navigated it in my canoe, run it in rafts, even sat in an inner tube and let it carry me downstream. My favorite sunbathing spot is at Red Rocks, approximately 25 miles east of Missoula, and seven miles of bad road off Montana highway 200. There's just nothing like a sunny day on the river.

"The Hub of Five Valleys" is one of the nicknames for Missoula. While number five is the home of Rattlesnake Creek, flowing south out of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, the other four valleys that come together at the basin which used to be the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula are the Bitterroot, coming in from the south, the Upper Clark Fork flowing from the east, the Lower Clark Fork flowing toward the west where it eventually merges with the Columbia, and the Blackfoot which flows into the Upper Clark Fork just east of town. All these rivers have their charms and their dangers. And people being human, there's a lot of trash deposited along and in the rivers. Thanks to the efforts of one woman, Marietta Pfister, much of the Blackfoot's trash gets picked up every year.

Scuba Divers and their backup prepare to clean up the river
Taken 7/25/09, Johnsrud Park, Blackfoot River, Montana

On Saturday, July 25th, five members of Kevin's Ham Radio club worked to ensure the safety of the approximately 200 men, women and children who showed up to clean up the Blackfoot. I went along for the ride, and to record in pixels the important work being done. Of course I also recorded some of the fun on the river. 2009 marks the sixth consecutive year for the Blackfoot River Clean-Up, a community-based activity that brings together federal, state and local governmental units, as well as community organizations and the public. This year, ten sets of scuba divers cleaned the river bottom while scores of others walked the banks and waded the shore lines. What they found is nothing short of amazing, but, fortunately nothing near as bad as in the early years of the project. The story of the clean-up is being told in classrooms and community halls around the country, energizing others to take seriously their responsibility to care for the world around them.

Just a bit of the trash pulled from the river
Taken 7/25/09 on the Blackfoot River

If you'd care to read Norman Maclean's wonderful story, or see the movie version that Robert Redford made, you can get them through my affiliation by clicking on the boxes below.

Note that in Robert Redford's movie version, the part of the Blackfoot was played by the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana (and the setting for several other Jimmy Buffett songs).

Or, maybe you just want a poster of Brad Pitt and a fish!

No comments: