Visiting the Poudre River

Visiting the Poudre River

As many of you know, I began my graduate studies this fall at Colorado State University in creative writing. An assignment in one of my classes required that I choose an outdoor “site,” which I am to visit on a regular basis, take notes, and then journal about it later. I’ve been visiting the Cache la Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins, via the city-owned Poudre Trail, for a little over a month now. On my last visit, Friday September 30th, I took my camera along with me. Here are some excerpts from journal so far, along with a few photos.

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A sign for the Poudre Trail via Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins, CO

August 20

I arrived at my site at 3:20PM. It was 86° Fahrenheit and mostly sunny, with puffy white cumulonimbus clouds in the north. I was sitting on the south bank of the river, the water flowing east. The river appeared almost a copper color because of the stones in its bed. The current was rather swift –as I could tell by the passing inner tube floaters—like a slow jog. According to the markings on the underside of the Poudre Trail pedestrian bridge over the river, the water was just under three feet deep.

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Willows and cottonwoods on the Poudre’s north bank

All around me were dogs, children swimming, and more people walking, running, or biking on the paved trail. Through the trees and over the sound of rushing water I could hear people cheering, laughing, and chatting. There was a constant sound of crickets chirping, and an occasional whisper of breeze through foliage.

In the water, a fresh four-foot Russian Olive branch with all its leaves floated by. I noticed stray, straight spider-silk threads in the grass and in the elm branches above me. Slowly a dragonfly flew by me toward the east. Some individual sparrows crossed the river as well. Dogs barked in the distance, and thunder could be heard coming from the north; the clouds grew darker across the river.

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September 12

I always thought the Poudre River was named after snow powder, especially since it drops 7,000 feet in elevation from the Rockies through a narrow, chiseled canyon, to conjoin with the South Platte River east of Greeley, Colorado. It actually refers to French Canadian trappers, in the early 1800’s, hiding their cache of gunpowder there during a particularly bad blizzard. The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic River.”

Behind me, a woman running west clears her throat. Two bikes tick east. The sun clouds over.

September 17

Today the Cache la Poudre River is just over one foot tall, the pedestrian bridge informs me.

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This means about 775 gallons of river water, of Rocky Mountain snowmelt, are flowing beneath that bridge every second. What seems like a humble stream to the eye—especially with monumental rivers in my mind, the Colorado and Snake nearby, the New and Mississippi and Chattanooga out east—is really a powerhouse, always on the move. Small yellow leaves are floating downstream, to the east, away from the Rocky Mountains and toward the South Platte River, toward the heartland. I read that brown trout spawn here in the fall, but I see no fish in the clear water down to the copper-y bottom, littered with round granite stones. Sometimes I hear the fish—a sudden catch of water, white flash slap above the surface.

Along the bank two blue jays stutter squawks at one another. One flies into view and lands on a yellowing cottonwood branch. His body is a jewel blue and he wears a white collar just above his breast, beneath a blue cockscomb. Later I learn this is the edge of the blue jay’s livable range, as far as they come; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halt them the way they halted railroads, the way they still halt clouds and precipitation.

I think about the river, about the trout. What would it feel like to live in water constantly flowing in one direction? Not like an ocean where the tide is a rhythm of give and take, but always east, the way our ancestors felt pulled westward continually. I ask a fisher friend about the trout—the brown, the rainbow, the cutthroat. He says you can often go back to the same spot on the Poudre or Snake or wherever, the same hole or stone, and catch the very same fish—they don’t stray too far. My concept of fish life has been shaped mostly by the story of spawning salmon and—let’s face it—Finding Nemo, so this was news to me, that fish don’t drift or migrate or explore in spite of the debris that floats right by, that the river doesn’t become their timeline on which to travel. I thought a good metaphor might be that little conveyor belt in sushi restaurants that slowly slides enticing sashimi and rolls right before your eyes, for the taking. I guess a river might feel more like that to a fish—food constantly coming and going all day, all night, abundance set spinning by the engine of gravity, by the churning of season, of freeze and thaw.

September 22

I count thirty-five bleats of train horn in the span of several minutes. A helicopter hovers somewhere to the south and car engines rumble to the east. Behind me, bikes pass and dog leashes jingle. Occasional bits of conversation slip through the weeds—two students stressed about the new semester, a mother making safety-related requests of her young child on a miniature bicycle, two middle-aged women building each other up. A propeller plane’s engine rattles from above, behind cover of low, gray clouds.

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Cottonwoods framing the Poudre River Trail

I have just heard how little land in this country remains untouched by human-generated noise. If not an interstate, then a highway. If not a highway, then a railroad. If not a railroad, then trails for ATVs or snowmobiles. If not a trail, then a reservoir with a marina. And if no marina, then planes etching their contrails above, or helicopters leading rescues of people lost in the wilderness. Silence deserts. The scarceness of silence. This must have devastating effects on animals, especially those who rely on their hearing to find prey, to hunt, to stay safe, to not become prey, to survive.

When I hear a sound—a splash of water, birdsong, crackle of twigs or dry grass—I hope for a sighting of an animal—a trout, a blue jay, a crow, a grasshopper. When animals hear our omnipresent noise—engines whirring, tires squealing, horns honking—what do they hope for?

September 30

All the vegetation and leaves are more yellowing today, rustier—oxidized colors. There was a light drizzle all morning. My field notes are speckled with the occasional raindrop ink-stain. The Poudre River was measured at two feet high, higher than my last visit because it’s been raining up in the mountains, to the west.

Little white wildflowers upstream catch my eye. I walk over unsteady pebbles and a large cottonwood root to get to them. The root is far enough away from any trees that it’s impossible for me to tell to which it belongs. Each flower is in various stages of unfurling—some are fully open, dripping their petals into their watery reflections.

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As best as I can tell, the flower is Carolina Bugbane, or Trautvetteria Caroliniensis, which is native to this area

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Carolina Bugbane is in the Rananculaceae family, or the buttercup family, and seems to prefer wetter habitats

I find myself thinking how it would feel to live in a river that can get as low as one foot deep—to have distance infinitely available to you (seemingly), but know your explorations, your knowledge, were all limited to one foot by the width of the river by its length. I suppose human life, until the inventions of the airplane and rocket-ship, is fairly limited in that way as well—we’re basically stuck to the earth’s surface, most of us. This, I think, is the origin of the desire to fly, our envy of birds. We can’t see the earth’s rotund nature from our limited depth, the slice of air in which we live. We’ve had to escape this space to see the world for what it really is—a sphere remarkably like and unlike any other.

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YogaYogaYoga

Last weekend I started my Yoga Teacher Training at Blossom Yoga here in town. I’ve decided to embark on this 200-hour journey because a) the training places me decidedly in the role of student, which I’ve missed, and b) afterwards, I will be able to share my love of yoga with some legitimate confidence (and you all know how I love sharing!).

I find being a student particularly freeing. Being in a position of learning means there is no need to pretend to know things you don’t, or “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s a position of humility, and openness. You aren’t required to have your mind made-up about things; it’s okay to admit ignorance. As a student in teacher training, we naturally have homework assignments. And as one of the class’s homework assignments, I am to write about how my worldview of yoga has evolved or changed after the first weekend of training. Since I promised to share a little about my yoga weekend with you all, I felt it was appropriate to post the response to that question here as well.

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Yoga has been a way for me to re-center and realign myself (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), and to awaken my mind to the simple presence of my body, through linking the breath to movement. And for many, yoga is a way to relax and de-stress because, as demonstrated in several medical studies, yoga actually slows down the metabolism. Yoga is also a way to love and appreciate your body which, in many ways, runs against mainstream Western culture, known for encouraging the mind’s control of the body, and thus separating the two. We often try to stuff ourselves into punishing clothes (skinny jeans, Spanx, belts, bras, high heels, etc.), try to force our bodies to shrink by withholding certain foods (gluten, dairy, desserts, carbs, etc.) or engaging in certain practices (juice cleanses, etc.), and compare our bodies to highly visible images of people who look good for a living (models, actors, performers, etc.). This is obviously unfair, and yoga has become a great stepping stone on the path of healing for those who have suffered at the hands of fad diets, body image issues, and other physical challenges.

I also love yoga because it makes me feel good! My flexibility has gotten so much better in the past three years, and I’m able to focus much more acutely on my weight distribution, balance, and exertion in different areas of my body, which is GREAT for climbing!

As you can see, my focus in practicing yoga has been largely on how doing different poses makes me feel, and not so much on the other stuff, of which there is a LOT, apparently. I am already familiar with many poses (even if I can’t do them!) and what those poses accomplish in my body – as in, if I do a lot of chair pose, aka utkatasana (which you can see here) one night, the next morning my quadriceps are guaranteed to be sore. I’m beginning to learn exactly what’s happening to my body in a pose like utkatasana, and why certain tiny, precise movements in the fingers, toes, etc. are so important.

And this is the stuff I love about yoga – in a challenging pose you can take your mind away from, say, your abs, and instead to your knuckles. Are they touching the mat? How far apart are they? Do they feel weak, or strong? Do they feel energized? And this realization, this ability to intimately experience your body, is really quite powerful.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the history of yoga. And though learning something’s past is an important part of knowing that thing in full, its past does not define it, which is something we discussed in class as well. As classical composer Gustav Mahler once put it, “Tradition is the handing on of the flame, not the worship of ashes.”

Namaste, folks.