Kristen Lodge – Of Rocks and Rivers
January 14, 2010
I read a book review Of Rocks and Rivers: Seeking a Sense of Place in the American West and knew instantly I had to read it. Geology and rivers are two subjects I’ve been reading about in order to understand the landscape where I live and play, especially since the Moffat Firming Project was announced.
Ellen Wohl, the author, is a professor of Geology at Colorado State University and has written several books about rivers. She is a geomorphologist (the study of the formation, alteration, and configuration of landforms and their relationship with underlying structures) and specializes in the physical forms and processes of rivers.
Of Rocks and Rivers is a travelogue, river guide, scientific study of western rivers, a naturalist guide to beautiful places, a study on snowpack relevance, and a water diversion study – all readable by non-scientists.
Ellen moved west like so many of us, in search of a wilderness and beauty. Her book is a story of a scientist falling in love with the desert of Arizona and the prairie and mountains of Colorado. In the book she tells a story of rafting the Colorado River with her students and discusses the river’s flows, geology, history, and the way the river has shaped the canyons.
She takes readers to Phantom Canyon to examine the impact to the North Fork Poudre River caused from the North Poudre Irrigation Company releasing sediment from a dam. She describes a beautiful canyon with a river bed filled with dead fish and the stench that went along with it. But, she also ends the story with the fact that three years later the fish are back.
Ellen tells stories of despair and hope, restoration and repair, in a gentle way. She doesn’t preach or blame, she tells her scientific point of view so we, the reader, will understand and learn. Eloquent sentences abound including: “I derive a sensuous pleasure from such sandstone walls,” and “skiing through aspens I sometimes laugh aloud in sheer joy of being able to live in such a place.” Her influences are the nature writers past and present and she tells her stories of place in the literary tradition of Thoreau, Muir, Carson, Abbey, Dillard, and Lopez.
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In many of the chapters she comes back to “do we really need green lawns?” and how little is done to alter human use of water.
I contacted her after I read the book and asked how she wrote in a tone that is not angry or preachy. She answered: “Activist can make a point when they are gentler. However, anger is important and is needed at times to make a point. You can point fingers, but you do it too.” Ellen told me about her summer research in the Fraser Experimental Forest. She has been coming to Grand County every summer since 1996 to conduct research near East Saint Louis Creek. She is studying the long term effects of beetle killed trees falling into East Saint Louis Creek just above the diversion.
Ellen has researched other water diversion projects in Colorado so I asked her,
“If scientists report that a river diversion project is bad could it still happen?”
Her answer: “Maybe.”
I asked Ellen, What can an ordinary citizen do?
She said: “Think about your personal choices. Become active in a local or national conservation groups. Make your voice heard. Every four years you have a choice. Get involved in politics. There is a contingency out there that cares about the environment. The environment is no longer just a liberal cause; we all want clean air and water. We are all connected to the natural world.”
All proceeds from Of Rocks and Rivers: Seeking a Sense of Place in the American West go to the Nature Conservancy.
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