Like a River… TIP#3

River TIP #3: Get Dirty

“…I think that the river is a strong, brown god…” ~ TS Eliot, Four Quartets

To live like a healthy, free stream YOU GET TO spend all of your considerable energy doing one thing: playing around with rocks and dirt. That’s all a river does. Ever. Moving sediment is a river’s life’s work.

When you live like a river, you truly encounter whatever you run into in this world — the hard outcroppings, the hidden sandbars, the occasional, surprising downed tree alike. You touch and are touched by those experiences. 

And then, depending on their character, the layout the land around you, and your level of energy at the moment, you smooth, scour, or break off parts of those experiences; pick up some of the pieces and carry them along with you for awhile; put pieces down for another while…. and then you rinse and repeat. 

If you’re a river, a dog, or a physicist, then work and play are the same thing to you, and you might think playing in the mud sounds like a pretty fun way to spend your life. You’d be right. End of story. You are free to go and live happily ever after in perpetual creative response to everything you encounter. (I am not being sarcastic. I agree with Martha Beck: this is the secret.)

The only catch is…

To live like a healthy, free stream YOU MUST spend all your time and power playing in the mud. In other words, you have to do your life’s work. Because if you don’t, you will fall apart.

All of that potential energy that the river’s converting to power HAS to go somewhere.  Without its natural “load,” your river will erode its own bed, banks, and floodplain as well as the immediate surroundings and the entire ecosystem that extends out from there.

You must not do anything that denies your river or your self of this, its life’s work. When it comes to keeping or restoring a healthy riverine life:

It’s really about the sediment.

As always, the science-y details are below, and I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think!

Yours in peace, love, and wild rivers,

Betsy

WHY

Why would anyone ever deny themselves or their river of this glorious, playful line of work?

Sometimes it’s because we get it into our heads that rivers should be civilized. Maybe we don’t want any flooding or we want the river to be crystalline in all places, at all times. Sometimes it’s because we or someone else wants to hold our Stream Power in one place and use it for something non-riverine like lighting up other people’s houses or giving them a place to use a motor boat. Often we’re so afraid of erosion that we over-react… and actually make it worse.

HOW TO

Here’s how to keep your river playing/working smoothy:

Don’t dam your river. You might think it’s fun to hold still and do nothing — but not for long. Without following your calling, you have no movement, no power, no ability to carry sediment. You drop your load. When water IS discharged from a dam, it’s so clean and extra powerful and “hungry” for work that it erodes downstream with a vengeance.

Don’t armor your river’s foundation or edges. Sometimes we try to line our vulnerable spots — a damaged turn or an advancing waterfall plunge *– with concrete, sheet metal, wire baskets of uniform-sized rocks, or old Corvettes. This hardened boundary only deprives the river of a healthy sediment meal and often speeds up the water. Once again, you’ve created a hungry river. There are better ways to care for our vulnerabilities.

Don’t pave your river’s watershed. The world around you needs to have some roughness, some growing things, and some places for life and rain to just percolate down into the soil and roots around you. Rainwater that runs off of suburban sprawl is remarkably dirt-free and — since less of it soaked in AND it encounters less resistance from the smooth, concrete surface — fast. Starved.

In other words: keep it wild.

And if your river has been damaged from too much civilization, don’t worry. You’re not alone — it seems to be unavoidable in this modern world — and lots of cool people have developed lots of cool tools for stream restoration and for soul restoration as well. And they LOVE to share those ideas. Weirdly, we can re-wild our rivers and ourselves with the help of our civilization — our fellow villagers. Let me know about the folks and fixes you find, and I’m happy to share those I love with you. Send me a note. Meanwhile, remember you’re as powerful and muddy as any river: fall hard, flood occasionally, and always (and only) play in the dirt.

* Want to know what kind of river YOU are? Click here to take the quiz!

Like a River… TIP #2

River TIP #2: Fall.

Specifically, fall toward what attracts you.

When you live like a river, ALL of your power and most* of your sense of direction come from letting yourself be pulled by a gravitational force.

Rivers famously wear away stone, move boulders, crush them into bits, and then carry those bits across continents. That strength comes only from attraction. Remarkable.

And what attracts a river is the sea.

Ahhhh, now comes the part where you may whisper: okay, but what is MY sea???? The best news of all is that you don’t have to know exactly WHAT it is that is attracting you.

For most of its journey, the river can’t see the ocean. And even when it’s within sight, the sea is impossible to describe with words. What pulls the river — and you and me — is truly ineffable. It is THE ineffable. And that’s not only beautiful but logistically fine because, like a river, you don’t need to know where you’re going to get there.

All you have to do is follow the pull you feel in the molecules of your being.

I invite you to read more about the cool physics’ WHYs and HOW TOs  below and to write me about your experience… in this case, your experience with the fall!

Yours in peace, love, and wild rivers,

Betsy

Why:

River water — like electrical circuits, wire springs, me, and you — has potential.

In physics, potential means: access to stored energy. And this energy is stored within the physical thing itself — within the body. This is the actual science, mind you!

A circuit stores electrical energy, a spring stores mechanical energy, and river water stores gravitational energy:

“In rivers, the potential energy is in the form of topographic elevation above the ultimate base level of the ocean.”  Luna Leopold, A View of The River

That’s right, when you live like a river, potential is measured by how far you can fall.

When the river obeys the tug of desire and falls to a lower elevation, it loses some potential energy. “BUT WAIT,” you exclaim, since you have always loved the First Law of Thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed!” And you are so right. However it can — and in this case, it MUST — be converted to other forms of energy.

As it drops, the river water’s potential is converted to:

  1. Movement (kinetic energy): Gravity is the only thing that gives a natural river the ability to go anywhere, ever.
  2. Stream Power (friction energy): Stream Power is the reason rivers inspire awe. It’s what tosses Volkswagen-sized boulders around and carves canyons. The technical physics-term for such activity is Work. Of course, in physics there is no difference between work and play — both are just a force accelerating a mass through a distance, and when you do that over a period of time, physicists call it Power. It turns out rivers work all the time, like dogs. They can’t help themselves, and, like dogs, they do it with such exuberance that we can’t help but find it joyous.

That’s what happens to you too, when you release your potential.

How To:

In each moment and place, river water simply flows to the place with the MOST pull.

Okay, yes, there are a couple rubs:

~ This most attractive direction is also the location of the biggest fall.

That might be 1/4 inch (if you find yourself in an E-type stream like the Saskatchewan River) or 1/4 mile (if you find yourself at a step-pool type stream like the 1,320 ft Morning Star waterfall in the Northern Cascades).

So giving in to the tug may feel mundane… OR it may terrify you.

~ There’s also an actual rub, i.e., friction. You may have noticed above that the other name for Stream Power is friction energy. The river rubs against the earth wherever it touches it, picks off pieces of rock or dirt, picks them up and carries them for awhile, drops them sometimes, picks them back up.. and this is the river’s lifework.

Like a river, when you follow your desire, you automatically find yourself doing your life’s work. You can’t help it. There WILL be friction. That’s where the magic happens.

You may be afraid of falling or of rubbing someone the wrong way, but the only way to avoid those would be to hold still. And then you could never access your potential.

Moral #1: Never dam a river. It may turn into a perfectly nice lake, but it will no longer be a river in that place. It won’t be able to do “its river thing.” (Plus of course there are implications for the remaining river reaches above and below the dam as well as for all the living creatures in the ecosystem).

Moral #2: The same goes for you.

When you feel like you can’t tell what genuinely draws you, remember how the river works: following your path energizes you. You can feel it in in your body. A practical description of how to figure out your body’s foolproof inner guidance system is here.

Let go into the pull, and feel your power surge.

 

* See upcoming TIP#4 for the second steering mechanism. It’s a little un-nerving because noone understands why rivers do it, but don’t worry: they only do it all the time.

Like a River… TIP #1

River TIP #1: Protect your floodplain.

Hello, Beloved River Folk.

Today begins a series of the five Top Important Points (TIPs) for enhancing the rivers you love AND living like a gorgeous, healthy, wild river yourself.

When you follow TIP#1, you almost don’t need any other tips because your river has a deep resilience. Then it doesn’t matter what happens: your stream handles it. You thrive.

In a nutshell

Every natural river has a place to spill when things get big and fast and crazy. A floodplain has three characteristics:

~ open,Stream Type B... somewhere in my great-grandparents' homeland of Norwegia

~ level, and

~ connected to the river.

What’s that look like for a human? Where can your excess energy spread out and calm down? Is it walking outside, lying next to your fireplace, laughing with a friend, letting your pet snuggle on top of you, stitching things, building things?

I would NOT say a floodplain is “next to the river.” The floodplain is not a separate entity. The floodplain is as much a part of the river as the bed and banks. Remembering this may be the one easiest way to revolutionize river wellbeing.

That’s the core of Tip #1. If you want to delve into the why’s and wherefores, feel free to read on. Either way, I’d love to hear your comments and stories about floodplains both riverine and personal.

Yours in peace, love, and wild rivers,

Betsy

 

Why

Your river channel alone CANNOT be big enough to accommodate your floods.

~ Picture such an impractically huge channel: It would take up a whole valley.

And that over-sized river wouldn’t work well in regular or low flows. You’d have a thin sheet of water without cool-dark pools, oxygen-providing riffles, or tree-lined banks.

~ When a floodplain DOES become compromised — when flood flows get squeezed into the area between the river’s banks — that huge amount of water has to move quickly and that gives the water excess power. It has no choice but to cut down into the river’s foundation.

–> This is the most sure-fire way to begin a “head-cut” and unravel a river. <–

A floodplain saves the river from erosion by acting as a safety valve. It allows floodwater to leave the channel, get wide and shallow, and therefore lose velocity and strength. Then the water’s too weak to cut into the stream bed or banks.

Here’s the cool thing: it’s a two-way win because the floodwater also helps the floodplain. The slowed water doesn’t have the strength to carry the load of fine dirt, nutrients, and seeds that it gathered upstream, so It drops that material all over the floodplain. The enriched soil grows lush plants, and the plants in turn support lots of different life forms.

Actually the benefits extend even further! Upstream animals visit the stream before heading back home to reproduce, hunt, and be hunted. In other words, the river feeds the entire ecosystem. Win-win-and-WIN.

Your safety valves — your pets, friends, family, home, neighborhood, best-beloved beach or mountain — also benefit from your presence when they are “helping” you. And the world at large benefits from the ripples that radiate from your relief and gladness. Never think you need to “spare” your floodplain.

Your floodplain welcomes your floodwaters.

But here’s the issue I have noticed among us humans: In order to buy into the importance of a stream’s floodplain, we first have to accept the fundamental hydrologic fact that floods are fine.

Floods are natural. In a wild stream, some water leaves the banks and spills on to the floodplain about once every two years! Sometimes it’s a huge amount of water; sometimes it’s a small amount. I can’t stress it enough: flooding is normal and to be expected. It’s not a freak occurrence. It would be weird if flooding didn’t happen regularly.

This is as true of your life as it is your river. Floods are unavoidable. And that’s wonderful because…

Floods are healthy for the river, essential in allowing it to move rocks and dirt through the system.

And floods nourish life around the river and beyond.

Of course, each type of river has a different kind of floodplain:

Straight, fast step-pool-types have a tiny ledge-like floodplain, whereas slow-elaborately-meandering-types‘ floodplains take up huge valleys.

Natural Channel Hydrology differentiates eight stream-types. Want to know which kind of river you are? Click here to take the quick quiz!

Even though all floodplains are different, it’s not complicated to build, maintain, or re-build them.

How to

 All you have to do is let the river be the river.

1. Allow floods to happen

Don’t try to dam up big events. Event-full lives and river systems are the best (which is awesome since they also are unavoidable). Let the happenings, ideas, and emotion flow because that wide variety of power and nourishment automatically builds your channel and floodplain to be exactly the perfect shape for your climate, soil, and geography.

2.  Identify your “bankfull boundary”

In between the floods and the trickles there is a flow that forms your river’s banks. It’s not as easy to identify as you might think (particularly if a river has been messed with by humans). Click here to learn more, but meanwhile, think of this: your bankfull is where you find yourself sitting most comfortably on a late summer day to have a picnic. It’s the most peaceful place along your river.

3. Identify your floodplain and make sure it’s open, even, and accessible to the river

Once you know your bankfull level, look IMMEDIATELY next to it for a flat area. Then…

Keep it wild.

~ Do not allow anything un-natural in this entire area: no buildings and no man-made piles of extra dirt that stick up above bankfull elevation. Keep all such obstructions as far, far away as you can. This is easier said than done; such a lush area is attractive to outside development, and there is also a tendency to build berms to keep the floodwaters “under control.”  Just say no!

~ Trees and bushes are, of course, are welcome. In fact, their deep roots are important. Don’t be tempted to clear them and plant civilized grass.

As a human, you can and should have other living creatures as part of your personal floodplain. How to tell if someone is helping or hindering your flood relief?

: If a person, creature, or situation obstructs your flow — narrowing you or making you move more quickly — gives you the sense that the ground under or around you is eroding, or seems bothered by the sheer volume of your living, then they need to be moved well away from your daily life and your super-charged times as well.

:If a person, creature, or situation makes you feel more peaceful in the intense times — and your presence in those times seems to nourish them as well — then you have found your floodplain. Guard it.

~ As you evaluate, protect, and clear your floodplain, start close to the regular channel and move out from there. First and most especially, protect your bankfull edges. Keep development and livestock away from them or your boundaries will be erased. You won’t even be able to identify your floodplain. (Furthermore, without intact bankfull banks, your river’s dynamics can’t work at any flow level.)

Fences are fine because water can go right through most of them without constriction. In fact, nowadays, somewhat ironically, unless you live in a remote, huge landscape, good fences make for wild rivers.

So there you have it, my friends: may your floodplains be wild and your fences strong and wildlife-friendly. I hope I see you tomorrow for River TIP #2!

 

… turning your potential into what you want

Potential is not some abstract your Mom and your 6th-grade teacher agreed that you had a lot of and needed to work up to — it’s physicists’ technical term for a kind of energy. Yup, the stuff that makes things happen for real and big time.

[Note: Feel free to skip to the bottom if you want the RIVER TAKE HOME LESSON FOR HUMAN BEINGS minus the geeky goodness that follows! I won’t mind!]

Potential is energy stored in a very specific kind of place — in a system where physical things interact with each other and their location is important:

System Example 1: the earth’s river-ocean system

System Example 2: your life.

Listen up: Potential energy is very useful. It completely powers every river. And it can power your life in just the same scenic-AND-always-gets-its-way way.

“But,” you might be saying, “isn’t potential a lot like intelligence in that”, as my grandfather would say, “together with 25¢, it will buy you a cup of coffee?” Of course now it’s more like “together with $2.50, it will buy you a latté,” so, yes, the point is even more vital: potential isn’t worth much unless you can put it to use.

And when you’re feeling stuck, transforming your potential —-> the actual work required to build the life you want SEEMS like a leap.

Well, it is.

Literally. Let’s look at Astonishing Thing #1:

How a river converts potential energy to getting-stuff-done:

It falls. Toward what attracts it.

The river simply feels the direction in which it’s pulled and flows there. This one rule — this one way-of-going-about-things — powers and steers everything a river does.

The river’s particular flavor of potential energy is gravity. That’s why river water will waste no time getting to whichever direction feels most like downhill. Now, the higher it is above sea level, the more potential the river water has. Which means that as it flows downhill — following the pull of the sea — the river’s potential energy decreases.

BUT wait a second! Isn’t energy always conserved? Ah, yes — you’ve heard how energy can be neither created nor destroyed. So how can a bit of potential energy just… go away? It can’t. BUT energy CAN change form.

As a steadily flowing river drops in elevation, its potential decreases, and that potential energy is converted to friction energy — in other words into energy that is dissipated against the stream bed and bank. This friction energy is called the “stream power” because its “shear stress” (I never tire of how these very technical terms get imported into our daily conversation with great meaning.) literally shears or shaves sediment from the stream bed and banks. The river shapes its channel in this way.

In summary, Astonishing Thing #2:

As potential decreases, stream power increases.

(Kind of interesting. When the river water meets the sea, it has no more potential. Does the human parallel seem a little depressing? I don’t know. If the sea is — as the great sages of all traditions agree whether they call it God, the Tao, enlightenment, the Beloved — complete oneness with love, then I guess we wouldn’t care if we had more potential. And of course there’s the ever-famous water cycle Soon those drops will be evaporated waaaaay up high and carried in clouds over to be dropped on the tip top of a mountain with the most potential EVER. And start the creative building again.)

 More fully, Astonishing Thing #3:

As it follows what pulls it, the river converts its potential into its life’s work: building itself.

A river converts potential energy into its pretty, earthen stream channel: That’s why Luna Leopold ended his classic book A View of the River with the soaring, almost rhapsodizing, statement, “The river is the carpenter of its own edifice.” Of course he got rhapsodic — because it’s pretty crazy. The river is one giant self-making potential convertor. Just. Like. You.

And did you happen to notice Astonishing Thing #4:

The river’s cool creative stuff gets done through things that sometimes get a bad rap: Friction. Stress. Work.

Don’t even worry about it. They’re just words. Remember that in physics there’s no difference between work and play, and experiment with the TAKE HOME RIVER LESSON FOR HUMANS:

All you have to do is let yourself follow what attracts you, and your potential WILL be converted into an energy that immediately starts shaping your life.

Keep me posted!

… with a very real boundary

Boundaries — they’re not just for other people

~ Bridgette Boudreau

Those seven words made me laugh so hard that they actually got me thinking about boundaries in a real way. (Proof that taking things lightly is miracle-inducing.) As in, where do we set them and how and… what the heck are boundaries anyway?

So I asked myself…

What do we know about a river’s boundaries?

[Note: slide your eye to wherever you see this symbol » if you want to skip the river specifics and get to the human take-homes!]

When hydrologists restore a damaged stream, we don’t set boundaries for the river. We just find the river’s own, already-existing, naturally-occurring boundary — “bankfull.”  It’s always there.

You’ll hear references to other boundary-sounding river features, for example the “low-flow channel” (but that changes annually if not daily) and the “one-hundred-year flood” (but that is a statistically-constructed theoretical estimate). Bankfull is the one and only visible physical boundary that a river has.

Knowing and respecting a river’s boundary is the most fundamentally important piece of the restoration process.

Only after we see and measure the river’s boundaries can we gather all the information necessary to understand “how the river wants to be.” Since basing design on the river’s innate preferences is what makes Natural Channel Hydrology so beautiful, effective, and sustainable, it is safe to say that everything hinges on understanding the river’s boundaries.

And — even with rivers — the natural boundary can be hard to figure out. Finding a river’s true edge is the trickiest art and science of Natural Channel Hydrology. Isn’t that an amazing parallel to human life? [Or at least to mine…!]

Hydrologists’ boundary-finding tools:

Each river tool for identifying bankfull is based on an important fact. (The river tools are marked by a square bullet. My ideas for parallel human tools are marked by an arrowhead.)

1. One way to identify a river’s bankfull boundary is to walk straight up out of the river — perpendicular to the flow — with your attention in your feet. When your toes begin to drop — to feel an even, level spot — that’s quite possibly bankfull.

Hydrologists take into account that bankfull is a geological feature. It’s a physical phenomenon within the river body — a level/depth — where the bank flattens out. It’s where the river just begins to spread out its waters when flow rises to flood levels.

» Like a river, our human boundaries are bodily phenomena. I mean, we can identify them by physical sensations. Here’s my approach:

Start somewhere inside yourself that you KNOW is “you,” and feel your way out into the world. When you feel a flattening out — there’s your boundary.

Alternately, start somewhere way outside of someone else’s private self, on nice level ground, and head toward that person’s psychic (or actual) space. When you feel the beginnings of a drop — a steep-ish slope down into their life — there’s your boundary.

I decided to test this approach: when is it okay for me to know something about my (18-year old high school senior) son’s social life vs. when should I mind my own business? He’s still in high school and lives in my house, so I feel fine establishing what time I can expect him home at night. But he is an adult (!), so I no sooner walk toward more details (like “who is he with?”) then I get a dropping in my stomach like when an airplane plummets. There’s the edge. When he was 5 or even 15, I still would have felt perfectly steady with the need to know who his companions were. Back then, I wouldn’t have felt that dropping sensation until I got to the desire to know, oh.. whether or not he ate candy (at 5 — yes I was THAT mother) or who he had a crush on (at 15 — God I tried NOT to be THAT mother but it’s harder than you might think!).

Note: I also could have arrived at this conclusion by starting inside myself — I don’t feel on even-footing until I know what time he will be home. Then I can sleep. So that’s where I can stop and say — this is my boundary.

2. Whenever possible, river professionals analyze historical flow data to determine which flow/energy level does most of the real work, i.e., is the peak in 2/3 of the years. If that flow’s depth matches the physical features we see in the field, then we have a little more confidence that we have spotted the river’s boundary.

Sometimes, bankfull’s physical line has been obscured (by a flood) OR there are conflicting flat places (maybe caused by periodic, artificial high flows released from a dam) OR the level area is so narrow that it’s hard to be sure if you’ve found bankfull (This is especially common in stream-types A, F, G, and even B. Click here to find out what kind of stream you are!). In those cases — and even when we think the boundary is clear — an hydrologist’s next step is to remember that “bankfull” also refers to an amount of water flow — a certain number of gallons moving down the channel each second. Bankfull is the flow that fills the channel to the point of imminent flooding.

A river’s water level represents its energy level — how much power it has. And there’s a really fascinating relationship between a river’s power and its boundary: the river does most of its “work” at the boundary-level flow.  Bankfull is the flow/energy level that formed the river channel, and it is this boundary-level work that continues to maintain the river’s shape:

Larger flows are more powerful, yes, but they occur infrequently. That’s why river channels are not big enough to accommodate their 100-year flood.

Smaller flows are more frequent, but they are less powerful. They don’t carve significantly into the surrounding earth or carry much of a load.

Where frequency intersects power is the sweet spot — the flow that made the river what it is — perfectly suited to its environment. On average, a river’s annual peak flow (usually the spring runoff but sometimes a quick increase in flow caused by a rainstorm) reaches bankfull or higher in 2 out of 3 years.

» I think that our true human boundaries also are associated with the real, meaty work we have done and continue to do in building ourselves to be who we are and who we want to be.

Don’t be fooled into thinking your boundaries have to do with the small many-times-a-day issues like whether or not your housemates put the toilet paper onto the rollie-thing in what you consider to be the proper direction.

Nor are your boundaries to be found in huge crises like whether or not your childhood best friend came to your mother’s funeral. Though such an event can cause huge damage, it’s not something you design your life around.

To find your boundaries, look at where/when/why/with whom/how you do your real life’s work. That’s what matters. What has shaped that work? Or, more exactly, how have you shaped yourself into this person you want to be? Protecting and creating those situations are your boundaries.

Kelly gets irritated that her husband is messy in the kitchen.  And it almost killed her when he had an affair. But her real work in life — creating a family in which all members thrive as individuals as well as have a safe, relatively simple, haven together as time goes by– wasn’t formed by divvying up the dishes or by one big promise. It was/is shaped by the connections forged in engaging altogether in open-hearted conversations, fun activities, and comforting routine. Perhaps these things make up the biggest part of the day only 1/2 or 2/3 of the time, but that’s where the real work is done, and so those are her boundaries. Her husband is good at those things, so — for now — it is worth it to her to work through the tiny and monumental issues that come up.

3. Another way to identify bankfull is to look for the “tree line” next to a river. This is somewhat of a misnomer because in some ecosystems, the perennial plants actually may be non-woody deep-rooted vegetation, but you can be sure that you will not find a river’s perennial friends inside the river’s bankfull boundary.

Hydrologists know that a rivers’ best friends — trees, bushes, and deep-rooted plants — need water and nutrients yet cannot live when constantly saturated.

When peak flow reaches or exceeds the bankfull level, water spreads out on the flat area adjacent to the channel — the floodplain — and the water slows way down. As soon as it spreads and slows, the river loses power, soaks the ground, and drops the load it has been carrying (which includes nourishing topsoil from upstream AND seeds!).

Bankfull flow is only seasonal — the river is significantly lower most of the year — so although they get regularly watered and fed by the river, plants at bankfull elevation are not drowned underwater most of the time. They have room to breathe. The best of all worlds and a truly symbiotic relationship. Trees need stream banks, and stream banks are stabilized by trees.

For this reason, perennials do not survive below bankfull elevation.Annual grasses — and shoots of all varieties — sprout and grow down inside a channel for one summer, but the next one or two spring runoffs will likely drown them or wash them away.

» To find our own boundaries, I think we humans can look at where our very best friends and allies — our very happiest and best version of “Everybody” — congregate. That’s where they stabilize us and we benefit them as well. And that’s where they stop, respecting our wants, needs, and preferences.

I would really love to hear your personal examples of how this tool (or the others in this post) plays out in your life. If you don’t want to comment below, you can email me (my gmail handle is betsypearsonpe — don’t forget the last 2 letters or it goes to a very nice woman in Indiana who is not me!)

4. Most importantly, we are wise to remember that each of the above conditions can be difficult or impossible to assess. When that’s the case, river guru Dave Rosgen’s favorite on-site learning activity is to ask his students to grab their sack lunches and picnic by the river. Try this yourself: Usually you will end up parking your bottom right exactly on bankfull because a river’s boundary is the most comfortable spot — level, perhaps next to a tree, near the water but dry… and high enough to look around.

» The same goes for humans: get comfortable. That’s where your real life’s work is done, and that’s your one true boundary.

What if you feel your boundaries aren’t established and you really need to FORM boundaries?

If you want to live like a river, then don’t worry about artificially, theoretically calculating or setting “appropriate” boundaries.

>>All you have to do is: your life’s work (and remember, work and play are the same thing in the realm of physics and rivers!).

When you are following your calling, your personal power automatically will carve your perfect boundaries into the foundation of your life.

Not only will your bliss (as our beloved Joseph Campbell called this kind of work) form a life with edges perfectly-shaped for YOU, but also it will create a “floodplain” to absorb the excess when life’s floods overwhelm you. And that will attract a community of supportive allies. And they will grow right next to you come drought or high water, and they will support you and you will nourish them and together you will create the comfiest spot around — your boundary.

Our inevitable destination

“God makes the rivers to flow. They tire not, nor do they cease from flowing. May the river of my life flow into the sea of love that is the Lord.”

~ Rigveda #2 excerpt, translated by Eknath Easwaren

A rives never tires or ceases because it’s always pulled by an ever-present force — gravity. The earth is a hugely strong attractor. Nothing a river does can change its destination. It WILL get to a sea.

And none of us can avoid the pull of love, according to the Sanskrit text quoted above. No wonder that text’s title translates to “Praise Knowledge,” for this is indeed a deep and praise-worthy thing to know. You know it by feel — from experiencing that pull, moments of falling into that sea of love*, and the cycle of emerging only to flow in that direction once more.

The journey always involves beauty/messiness — meandering; erosion; friends, family, lovers, and loss; moderation and eccentricities; abrupt steps; floods. Thanks be.

* This quotation provides maybe my favorite definition of “God.”

… Drenched

“Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!” said Piglet, feeling him. Eeyore shook himself, and asked somebody to explain to Piglet what happened when you had been inside a river for quite a long time.” ~ A.A. Milne

If water drips off you when you’ve been inside a river for quite a long time, then here’s the question I’m playing with:

What’s pouring from you when you’ve been inside your life for quite a long time?

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Here’s what we know about water:

Water runs through a river, shaping it.

The river’s assembly of bed-banks-floodplain is not just some random handy container giving water a place to flow. The river — that particularly-shaped earthen body  — is formed BY the water as it follows gravity‘s pull to a sea. That’s why each river is just the right size and shape for its flow.

So the question becomes:

What flows through your life, shaping it?