October 11th, 2010

The picture illustrating this post wasn’t really accurate; I was impatient to write about my rivers even though we had not yet visited the rivers I love most. The picture in that earlier post  is of the Snake River as it runs through Grand Tetons National Park – a lovely river, by any standard, but not the best illustration of the rivers I love most. Because I was raised by a fisherman, my favorite rivers are good trout streams: shallow and clear, broad and flat as they flow through open valleys full of grass that grows right up to the banks, with gentle riffles that sparkle in the sun. Rivers like these:

(The Firehole)

(The Gibbon flowing through Gibbon Meadow.)

(The Madison)

It seems right that of all the rivers that pass through the park, the three I love best are linked not just by my personal history but by geography: at the confluence of the Gibbon and the Firehole, the Madison is born. The Madison is born and the Gibbon and the Firehole cease to exist. Their waters continue to flow between the banks of the Madison, but as rivers in their own right they have vanished. It’s a cruel thing that so completely obliterates its creators but that is the way of rivers. They fill their banks and run downstream until they too are subsumed by a larger river. The Madison runs for just over 180 miles until it meets up with the Jefferson and the Gallatin to form the Missouri; there at Three Forks the Madison vanishes from the map. Only the Missouri remains. The Missouri flows to the Mississippi. The Mississippi runs to the sea.

So it goes with rivers. They are there, and then they are gone, and yet they are not. Perhaps that is why I love them. They teach me the thing I most need to learn.

What’s your true north, and why do you think that is?