So I am a big fan of Riverspeak.net, an online arts community for the Spokane area. They are a great way to find out about events and artists! This past month, in honor of Earth Day being in April, they asked people to write about what a clean Spokane River meant to them based on a short, provided prompt. I have lots of memories of the river since I spent three years on Gonzaga’s campus, which is bordered by the river on the north side, so I sat down and wrote out my thoughts and memories regarding this body of water.
Reflections on the Spokane River
Every time I see the Spokane River, I think of all the times my friends and I have walked along the river to downtown with the street lights sparkling in the water and the current pulling along beside us. The river is a companion, traveling along with us on our adventures, an embodiment of Spokane. As a representative for the area, the river slowly worked on me, like water on stone, bringing me deeper and deeper into the landscape of this high alpine desert and prairie, carrying me away from my homeland of ocean and Olympic Mountains to the feet of ponderosa pines.
I’ll never forget the time that my fiancée and I sat alongside the bridge by the Gonzaga Law School at the beginning of our relationship and watched the waterwalkers trip along the ripples of the water. This was his special thinking place from when he was a child and I was grateful that he wanted to share it with me. We perched on the rocks by the shore, mostly successful at avoiding getting a sharp prod in the butt. The water was clear enough at the shallows that I could see the tan river bottom and tiny black fish lazily paddling around, stopping every few moments to flick above the surface to snatch at clouds of gnats buzzing above the surface. It was exciting to see this small food change interaction. It is comforting that the river still supports life despite sightings of rusty mattresses and trash bags from the Centennial trail. I want those fish to grow up to fill the river and feed the many birds that gather on the water in the spring and fall. Those sightings too have become important moments in my relationship both with my fiancée and with this city.
The most powerful moment I have ever had concerning the Spokane River was standing on the suspension bridge at the end near the falls in the springtime with the water roaring so loudly that my ears were ringing. The white water foamed and thundered across the rocks while the wind whipped the water up into the air, soaking me to the skin, though I stood more than twenty feet above the turmoil. The strength of the river made me feel tiny and I was afraid that the bridge cables would snap and send me plummeting down into the roiling water to be crushed on the rocks. It looked like a white water rafter’s paradise, but certainly not mine.
I’m happiest strolling on a sunny day where the blue sky is reflected in the water of a slower river and the wildlife is out and about, the world a cacophony life. Marmots slouch fearlessly along the trail while the birds call from the leafy trees, flitting around my head. The only danger is the need to dodge bikers ripping along the path!
Recently I drove along Upriver Drive and noticed a large brick building along the banks of the river and it made me realize that I never asked about the history of the river, whether mills were common, if barges puffed their way up and down the current. Coming from the western side of the state and the sprawling Puget Sound, I had not thought that the Spokane River was large enough to support commerce and community, but now I am curious to see if my conception of the river as provincial was incorrect and whether the people and the river were far more closely tied in the past than they are today. No one boats on the river thanks to the hydroelectric dam and only a few crazy Gonzaga students swim in it. The Spokane River is a river that runs through a city, but does not seem to be a part of the city’s life. I hope that some time in the near future Spokane takes a river that is in its heart, to its heart.
All participants are encouraged to read their pieces during the Earth Day Celebration downtown on Main Saturday, but I have work so I will be unable to attend which is sad because I had a blast when I went last year.
Check out Spokane Earth Day website for more information! I hope you can go!