Monday, August 6, 2012

The Genetics of River Passion

     I have always said that Rivers run in my veins... In fact, it was during that delicate gestation period when my veins were being built, created, that my Dad, Thomas fell in Love with the River. Yup, my Mom, Richlyn was pregnant with me when my Dad got into boating. I sometimes wonder what, if any, effect that had upon my future life. My Dad introduced me to Rivers at the impressionable young age of not quite four years old, as well as my older Brother, Aaron. But he didn't get the bug, not like I did anyways. I mean, don't get me wrong, Aaron enjoys boating. The only time he ever goes is when I take him though. He can live without the River... I can not.
     My Dad came to visit recently and I had the pleasure of R2ing a lovely afternoon float through lower Browns Canyon with him. When we got home that evening and were looking at the days photos from the rapid Twin Falls, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance between my Dad and I's facial expressions, and their progression through the rapid. We had identical expressions on our faces throughout the entire series! My Daughter, Charlotte seated between us was not a far cry off in many of the photos as well.
     This photo series started my mulling over the idea of  Passion for the River as being a possible genetic trait. I have noticed before that the River seems to simply "flow in the blood" for many of us River rats...

   I mean, there is something undeniably genetic going on here. Yes, of course I am my Fathers Daughter, yes I look allot like him, I look allot like my Mom too. Sure my Mom and Brother enjoy boating... when I drag them out on the River & make them go! But there is something there that drives Thomas and I, compels us to the River, keeps us coming back for more... Whatever chemical balance/(imbalance?) it is that produces that exhilarating sense of Bliss and Joy at moving with flowing water, seems to reside in both of our cerebral cortex's.
     My best friend Jeremy is also a crusty old River guide, and Mom to two beautiful little River Girls. She once told me about driving cross country with her Mom years ago, on her way to California, to be a full time River guide. (As opposed to working as just a weekend warrior, as she had been doing for the previous few years in Pittsburgh, PA.) They were driving through Glenwood Springs, CO near the Colorado River, when her Mom suddenly volunteered a small but important piece of information, previously unknown to Jeremy: That her biological father (whom she hardly knew) had been a River guide on the Colorado there in Glenwood Springs. Suddenly Jeremy's deep need to run Rivers made more sense to her, as no one in her nuclear family was even the slightest bit interested in the River. In fact, her Mom is scared to death of whitewater, and out of three siblings, she has only managed to get the youngest brother out on a River. Jeremy though, has that deep compelling need to ride the waves, flow with the current, run the River... she too, can not live without the River.
Laurels 6th birthday present last summer, class III!
     Jeremy's husband Steve will go rafting, though it is really not his thing. Their girls though, Laurel (7) and Faith (4.5) Love rafting! Particularly Laurel, who's 6th birthday present last summer was her first class III, and whom worked very hard at swim lessons to meet her Dada's criteria for being aloud to run class III. Now, she is begging for IV's! Jeremy's girls seem to have inherited that River gene, that Love of flowing water, of flowing with water... The gene that came from the Father Jeremy never really knew, being passed down to her girls. Just as my Father passed it to me, and I in turn to my Daughter, who also seems to cary that Joy of the River.
     My boyfriend Alan also inherited his Love of the River from his Mom, Lee. They discovered it together  though... Alan spent his early childhood canoeing on lakes, as he and his Mom spent many a summer paddling on flat water. At the tender age of 6, Alan had figured out that if he turned the big metal lake canoe around and sat on the back seat, facing the stern, it made the boat much more wieldy for a single paddler to navigate. And so at 6 years old, Alan was proudly soloing his canoe around all the coves and inlets of the lake shores. When Alan was 12, his parents got divorced. Undeterred by diversity, Lee took the opportunity to further explore her desire to boat. She bought a couple of sit on top kayaks, which she and 12 year old Alan began paddling down the lazy class II San Marcos River in TX. A few years later, Lee met a man who also shared an insatiable curiosity for the River. Together, the three of them took a whitewater kayaking class, and so at the age of 14, Alan sat in his first decked boat, never to look back. Over the next few years they explored the world of whitewater kayaking, canoeing, and rafting together, running any River they could get to!
     In 1999, when Alan was 16, his Mom and her boyfriend took a rowing clinic with Far Flung Adventures. Alan paddled along in his kayak, but the Arkansas River at 3K was quite a step up for him! He sites that trip as having been one of the most important events in his early River life. (Ironically enough, that same summer I was about to turn 18, and was training my tail off with Far Flung Adventures on the Rio Grande in NM, and after my birthday at the end of July, began my career as a guide.) Afflicted by that same burning need, Alan is on the River most every day, and I am sure that Lee would be as well, were she still with us...
Multi shot collage of 16 year old Alan paddling Sidel's Suck Hole on the Arkansas River, CO at 3,000 cfs
Photos taken, cut and glued by his Mom.

     It is apparent that a Love of the River is somehow passed on through the generations, wether it incubates during a childhood on the River, or surfaces later as that undeniable urge, unquenchable need to flow with the current, roll with the waves, be one with the River. But where did this gene begin? Who passed it on to Thomas, to Jeremy's Father, to Lee? For that matter who gave it to Georgie Clark White, and Uncle Steve Harris? Is our parents urge to run Rivers just as deep a biological need as ours? I know that Rivers have been run for centuries, eons even. Rivers were the original trade routs, highways before there were highways. Is there a generational gap between the necessity of running Rivers and the recreation of running Rivers? A gene that was somehow repressed until it could resurface and flourish? Somehow I am reminded of an old folk song about a "raftsman" named Jack Haggerty...

      I wonder if there was a boater somewhere in the dim and distant history of my family tree, there is after all another boater in my family... I call him my Uncle Jim, though he's not really my Uncle. He's just far enough removed to make whatever the official title is ultra confusing. His Mom and my Grandma Charlotte were first cousins, but also best friends, so they raised Jim and Thomas as first cousins, and so I was raised as his niece. Jim lives here on the Arkansas River and guided it, as well as the Salmon River in ID for many many years. Whatever that gene is, wherever it came from... Uncle Jim got it too.
     Cursed or Blessed... either way- for better or for worse, I am personally grateful for my River affliction. Somehow, I plucked that piece of DNA out of my primordial soup... and I hope that this Love of the River stays alive for generations of my lineage to come. Rivers are after all the life blood of our planet, the veins that keep us all alive and functioning, how appropriate then is it that some of us feel the River within our own veins? I mean, someone has to Love Rivers enough to steward them for the rest...

Epilogue: A few months after writing this blog post, I came across some interesting information regarding that enigmatic question of "Where did this gene come from?" My musings of this concept continues here- Genetics- Addendum

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