River of Soul

River of Soul: Water and Our Beloved Animas River

By Rebecca Wildbear

Gently release your weight to water, and feel your buoyancy.  Let your body surrender to the flow.  Look underwater for shafts of sunlight or signs of aquatic life.  Listen as waves reverberate on the shore, licking rock, log, sand, or grass.  Let your mind shift to the consciousness of water.

Water nurtures us; we first emerged into the world from our mother’s watery womb. Seventy percent of both the planet and ourselves is water.  The blood of our arteries and veins flows like the rivers and streams of Earth.

In The Hidden Messages of Water, Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto claims that human consciousness effects the molecular structure of water.  Thoughts, words and feelings can positively impact molecules of water, and polluted water can be cleaned through prayer and positive visualization.  “Words, intentions have a unique vibrational frequency that influences the Universe” he writes.  They have “the power to influence all of existence and change the world almost immediately.”

Perhaps a similar sentiment inspired the ceremonial gatherings that emerged after the Gold King Mine waste water spill on August 5th, 2015 to honor and celebrate the Animas River?  For most of the time humans have been on the planet, they’ve been in regular conversation with nature.  In Reclaiming the Wild Soul, Mary Reynolds Thompson writes:  In venturing “into the waters of our longing”, we experience “our belonging.”  May we always remember the river as our relative and guide.

Yet, our culture has inherited a way of life that stems from mining the Earth.  In the late 1800’s when Durango was called “Smelter City”; nearly everyone was employed smelting the metals that came down on the train from Silverton.  Now our town is called “Durango”, which actually originates from the Basque word, “Urango” meaning “water town”.  I’d like to see this as a hopeful sign that our core values are shifting.  

Since the Gold King Mine Spill, I’ve become more educated on the true state of our rivers.  At an Animas River Stakeholder’s meeting, www.animasriverstakeholdersgroup.org, it was reported that there are 44 abandoned mines at the headwaters of the Animas.  Although the Mountain Studies Institute, www.mountainstudies.org has been tracking water quality and insect and aquatic life for many years, draining mines are still dumping toxic pollutants into our river, each at a different rate and mineral content, and most have not been mapped.  Kristen Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety is an advocate of “bulkheads” as a mitigation strategy.  She’s quick to clarify that Gold King Mine did NOT have a bulkhead.  She says, these 10-20 foot concrete slabs placed inside the mouth of the mine are the “singular solution to control acid mine drainage”, and they prevent blowouts too.  It was reported at the Stakeholder’s meeting that the Animas has been polluted by “4 other blow-outs in the last 20 years”, and it has also been the recipient of consistent metal-loading from leaching, as well.  Brown says the bulkheads can potentially keep the “hydrologic balance of the mountain stable”, while still having an accessible valve to treat water as needed.

Ty Churchwell of Trout Unlimited (TU), www.tu.org reports that there’s an estimated “22,000 abandoned mines in Colorado and an estimated 500,000 in the United States that people walked away from 100 years ago and never cleaned up.”  Some abandoned mines are waste rock piles that hurt water quality, and other mines are draining mines.  All have the legal ability to clean up non-draining mines.  However, EPA has the legal liability relief to address draining mines.  Churchwell encourages everyone to join the San Juan Clean Water Coalition, http://www.sanjuancleanwater.org.  Log on and click the “take action” link to join the coalition and demonstrate your support for “Good Samaritan legislation” as a tool to cleaning up draining mines.   This will make it legal for certain qualified "Good Samaritans", such as watershed groups, non-profits and state agencies to make improvements and clean the mines.  Ty expressed a hope that the recent environmental disaster on the Animas would alert people to the pollution that has always been here: “the amount of mine waste dumped into the Animas River in 12 hours during the spill has been discharging into the Animas every 10 days or so unnoticed.  The draining mines in the upper Animas contribute about 300 million gallons of bad water to the Animas every year.  That’s 300 spills of the same size every year.”  TU is America’s largest and oldest river conservation organization; it has been involved in supporting and monitoring the health of the Animas River since long before the spill.

The Animas River was originally named the Rio de las Animas, the “River of Souls,” by explorer Juan Rivera in 1765.  However, there’s legend that it was once named “El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas” (River of Lost Souls), but some say that river is actually the Purgatory River in southeastern Colorado.  These are interesting metaphors.  Perhaps “river of lost souls” mirrors our own struggle to honor our soul and the soul of the rivers?  And “river of souls” could reflect our longing to honor the soul of rivers?

There are many practices you can undertake to honor water, soul, and our beloved Animas, River of Soul.  

Here’s a nature practice:  Develop or deepen your relationship with water, and/or the Animas River, in particular.  Spend time, witness, offer tears, and share your biggest questions and deepest secrets.  Yes, talk to the river. Feel the river and imagine yourself as the river.  Offer words and/or intentions of love and gratitude.  Without expecting anything, stay open to the possibility that the river may have something to say or offer back that could show up in words, images, a memory, a synchronicity, a communication in nature, or a dream.

Here’s a soul practice:  Before you sleep, ask the dream-maker for a dream vision to open your heart to what is beckoning from your soul or what Thomas Berry calls the “Dream of the Earth”.  Ask about your most unique gifts or how you might respond creatively to the challenges of cleaning up our rivers.  Write whatever dreams come.  Surrender to the images of the dream or seek a guide to support you.

Here’s a social practice:  Find out how you might best support the health of the Animas River and all rivers in your community.  Read articles, such as the ones on the Mountain Studies Institute website; here you will find detailed information on the research and monitoring of the Animas River.  Ask questions and support legislation that supports rivers.

In conclusion, we live at a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, a time of extraordinary uncertainty.  It’s essential that we consciously cultivate a relationship with water and all the beings of nature.  The amount of pollution from abandoned mines in Colorado, the U.S. (and beyond) is tremendous.  Yet, there are still actions we can take to support the clean up of rivers.  “Future generations will look back at the time we are living in now…the story they tell…will be shaped by choices we make in our lifetimes,”  Joanna Macy says. “Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society.  And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning."

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Here's a letter I wrote to the Animas River written after the spill in 2015, also my first summer working as a river guide ~

Dear Beloved Animas River,

I’m so sad that 3 million gallons of toxic waste was dumped into you on Wednesday, August 5. I apologize to you on behalf of the humans who made this mistake. Our culture seems addicted to consuming materials that come from mining the Earth, and we’re mostly too preoccupied with our own lives to notice the harm we cause in the way we go about it.  

I wish that I had asked more questions about the mines in Silverton that posed such a high risk to your wellbeing. I wish that I, and others, had protested the toxicity stored there and demanded its safe removal before this tragedy could occur. I wish that all of us humans were more aware of our careless and unconscious ways in regards to your wellbeing. I wish we could work together to create a radical plan to change our life styles and live in a way that honors the precious and beautiful being and resource that you are.

Now that you’re “off limits”, and we’re not sure when or if we’ll have you back, we are feeling the hurt. We can’t help but be aware of how much we rely on you for our life and livelihood. Some now are without drinking and bathing water. Others have no water for their livestock or farms.  Sadly, you are now empty of boats and duckies.  

As a kayaker and raft guide, I so miss being with you everyday. Flowing in you through the rocks and currents, in what I affectionately call “river consciousness”, has brought tremendous joy and has also taught me many lessons; including to be more present and trust life. I love watching everyone playing in your waters, and I love viewing the town from the perspective I have while I’m flowing on you. Your life-blood keeps our town wildly alive, relaxed and playful.

To consider what is happening to the wildlife living in your river valley ecosystem during this tragedy utterly breaks my heart. No one has warned the duck families, geese, osprey, beavers, and red-winged black birds to stay out of the water. How could we humans do this to what we most cherish in this life? To the most beautiful treasure that we have here!

Will this loss teach us to clean up all of our toxic mine leftovers? To change the way we are living? A 2012 report by Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada, called Troubled Waters, says: “Mining companies are dumping more than 180 million tons of hazardous mine waste each year into rivers, lakes, and oceans worldwide, threatening vital bodies of water with toxic heavy metals and other chemicals poisonous to humans and wildlife. The amount of mine waste dumped annually is 1.5 times as much as all the municipal waste dumped in U.S. landfills in 2009.”  

Clearly and unequivocally, we can no longer contaminate one of our planet’s most precious resources:  WATER.  May this tremendous wound we’ve inflicted raise our consciousness to see this.

I miss you tremendously. My heart is breaking and I cry for your suffering and all those who live in and with you. I’ll be praying for your healing and return to health.

With the deepest love and respect,

Rebecca Wildbear