Award-winning author, stream geologist, and Grand Canyon river guide
The End Is Nigh: Grief and the Big-Dam Era
The first email in my inbox this morning reads, “And now, the end is near.”
Frightening, like the doomsday warning on a hand-painted sandwich board. Clicking in, I see, “It’s time for the final curtain.” Worse and worse, until I read on: it’s the last day this season to order red grapefruit from citrus farmers I follow in the southern California desert.
Why do I follow them? I love the valley where they grow their sweet grapefruit. Do I buy their citrus much? Yes, when I visit the honor-syste...
It’s never too late to save a river
An old river-running motto says, “Old boaters never die, they just get a little dinghy.” And some never lose their passion for keeping rivers wild.
Consider California’s Stanislaus River. In the 1970s, people of all ages and abilities reveled in running its 13 miles of rapids bearing scary names like Widowmaker and Devil’s Staircase. Not far from Sacramento and San Francisco, the limestone canyon offered renewal and adventure to people nearly year-round.
But back in 1944, the U.S. Bureau of R...
Issue Number 56, Spring 2022
by Rebecca Lawton
A younger Rebecca guided thousands of people through the Colorado River watershed on lands of the Navajo, Hopi, and others. She writes now from Sonoma Creek watershed, homeland of the Miwok, Ohlone, and Pomo.
We plant late in the day
and pray for rain
to cool the night
We dream of things we loved
Those lost in an instant:
our stepmother’s breath
the neighbor boy who fell from his roof
Neither here to face the hot days
to come, though they wanted to
Those lost over ...
A community of river guides copes with loss
The Grand Canyon boating community — devoted to each other and to the Colorado River — was shocked to learn this fall that we’d lost two of our own.
Former river guides and rangers Mark O’Neill, 67, of Chimacum, Washington, and Kim Crumbo, 74, of Odgen, Utah, didn’t return home from a Sept. 13-17 canoe-packing trip in Yellowstone National Park.
Then on Sept. 20, Mark’s body and the boat were found on the shore of Shoshone Lake. He’d succumbed to hypothermia. Kim remains missing.
We who guided...
Beautiful Shards in High Desert Journal
by Rebecca Lawton
The Little Colorado River incises my right hand. An S-curve of scar begins near the deep crease of my life line, just west of the mound of flesh near my thumb. The river continues across the head line in the center of my palm. A branch of the weal that could be the mainstem Colorado flow...
Midnight at the Oasis
Midnight at the Oasis by Rebecca Lawton
Once oases supported human evolution. Now, our addiction to fountains, pools and palms threatens our survival
Seen from the air, the single verdant parcel of land with its straight borders and sharp edges resembles a green postage stamp pasted on a great expanse of manila envelope. Inside the boundary, a screen of trees hides a palatial estate, acres of emerald turf, a paved circular driveway, and an extensive array of tumbling, marble fountains. Outside the rectangle, a ...
The Big Dam Era Is Not Over
ast summer, construction began on what’s known as Site C, the third in a string of dams on the Peace River in northeast British Columbia. According to B.C. Hydro, the utility behind the projects, Site C will produce 35 percent of the energy with only 5 percent of the reservoir area of one of the existing dams. Once completed, the company says Site C “will be a source of clean, reliable and affordable electricity in B.C. for more than 100 years.”
Dams have long been touted as green, multiple-u...
The Healing Power of Nature
‘The longer the trip, the more healing occurs,’ says the geologist Peter Winn, who has been leading expeditions down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon since the 1960s. ‘Healing happens for people almost without exception.’
The most dramatic transformations that he’s observed have been in disabled military veterans on 16-day kayaking trips organised by a group called Team River Runner. ‘One army communications expert came home from Iraq so full of shrapnel, he’d lost his ability to do eve...
A water-stressed valley needs to curb development
In my drought- and fire-plagued home valley, 40 miles north of San Francisco, a debate has been simmering for decades over a massive development planned on state-owned property.
The conflict is focused on nearly 1,000 acres of rural and wildland in Sonoma Valley. The prime wine-country property has been eyed for development since long before 2018, when the state transitioned its last clients from the Sonoma Developmental Center, California’s oldest hospital for the “feeble-minded.”
When I accidentally stumbled into Disappointment Valley, I found that Disappointment was just what I needed to carry me through loss that still felt fresh and overwhelming.
Kathryn Wilder’s Desert Chrome: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West (Torrey House Press, 2021) explores a world few get to know and even fewer inhabit. In the pages of Wilder’s memoir, we find the richness of life on the high desert and a deeply observed sense of place by a longtime writer, outdoorswoman, rancher, and water lover. From the first pages, we know we’re in the company of an author well-versed in the cycles of seasons and wild nature. We learn how she’s suffer...
A Small Affair
This spring marked the one hundred and eighty-third anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. That grisly event saw the demise of some six hundred Mexican troops and two hundred Texians, including one David Crockett, the forty-nine-year-old backwoodsman and former congressman from Tennessee. To those of us who’d caught Davy Crockett fever as kids in the 1950s, the Alamo was above all the place where the “King of the Wild Frontier” met his fighting end. At that small missio...
Why breaking the rules outdoors is an irresponsible thrill
I had just finished digging an outhouse pit on a river in Colorado with a fellow National Park Service ranger when we saw the unexpected: a solo kayaker paddling the rapids that ran past our camp. A law-enforcement ranger who’d been leaning on a shovel had gotten a better look. He pulled out his two-way radio to call a backcountry station 45 miles downstream. ‘Lone kayaker passing Anderson Hole at 1930 hours,’ said the ranger-cop. ‘He’s headed your way.’
All boaters approved to launch that da...
How To Develop A Spiritual Connection To Water
When I was a young girl exploring the deserts of California and Arizona with my family, I learned about dry camping. Each night we had only a finite amount of water that we’d carried in by car or in our backpacks, limited stores not to be wasted by spilling or overuse. In those moments, guided with love by my outdoor-loving mother and father, I made a little go a long way. I felt the value of water as we measured portions out according to weight or volume. Using only what we needed taught me ...
What Casablanca Taught Me About Resilience
Movie lore says that, in the 1942 movie Casablanca, the actors singing La Marseillaise to drown out the Nazis in Rick’s Café are shedding real tears. Die Wacht am Rhein, sung by officers of the Reich, and the French national anthem, the response of refugees headed for America, were performed chiefly by Hollywood’s extras of the day–European émigrés. Many were German Jews. Some had been leaders in the resistance back home. Singing Die Wacht at that time in French Morocco provoked both the film...
Rebecca Lawton, a fluvial geologist and former Grand Canyon whitewater guide, is the author of several books about rivers and the boating life. Today she writes about water, climate, and other environmental subjects for journals such as Aeon, Hakai, Orion, Sierra, and Sonoma County papers.
Her debut essay collection, Reading Water: Lessons from the River, was a San Francisco Bay Area bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Her first novel, Junction, Utah, won a 2014 WILLA Aw...