River People

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by Kitty Galloway

I spent years in my twenties posing as a river person. I was a writer and an artist with a strong pull to mountains, but I had graduated college with a degree in environmental education, and my path led me to Missoula, Montana. Missoula, as it turns out, is a town that has a thing for rivers.

In Missoula, I soon started dating a rafter, and it all fell into place from there. Within months, I landed a job as an environmental educator working for a nonprofit that taught about water. Though I knew a lot about teaching, I knew less about water, so I attended water conferences, read studies, and learned from people who did know. There are over a dozen organizations in Missoula that focus specifically on rivers. Fly fishers, rafters, hydrologists, kayakers, paddle boarders, scientists, biologists and photographers all do their best to make their voices heard when it comes to rivers in this town. There is also the Missoula Water Quality District, the Missoula Water Quality Advisory Council, Montana Watershed Coordination Council and more. The list is extensive. People in this town care about rivers. There were a lot of people to learn from.

It would be quite possible to write an essay much longer than our magazine would even consider about all of the river stories and people stories and water stories at play in this small valley in Montana. There are many books worth of material just waiting to be written on the subject, and many that have already been written. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Mclean, for example. I will not try to even do it justice here. We are sitting below the site of the one the earliest and most substantial environmental and social justice battles in the country, that led to the creation of a Superfund site as well as a massive dam removal in 2008, the Milltown Dam. Clark Fork River, the river that indeed does run right through town, now flows free, until Thompson Falls that is. Most recently, we became a city that after much hard work and debate, now owns our own water supply. In Missoula, there is much to say about rivers.

I would argue that all of those years that I worked on and in and around rivers, I never felt quite in place. I’ve always been more comfortable with a backpack on and a trail under my feet than on a raft, or standing thigh deep in a rushing stream. But those years taught me that as it turns out, we are all river people. Our rivers connect us, as the water cycle connects us. Whether you drink water from a private well, from a city well, or from a reservoir, that water is somewhere along the way connected to a river, and that river is connected to your water.

We are all, it turns out, river people, because we all depend on water, which is something I forget sometimes. I used to tell students, as we talked about pollution and runoff and groundwater and rivers, that we are all down watershed from someone. Our water connects us.

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and in tribute to that, our Camas theme this season is Rivers. Last week submissions closed, and our editorial boards are now hard at work, deep in the process of reading all of the fine work sent our way.  

We just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your poems, stories and words about rivers. We are excited for the magazine that is taking shape. Stay tuned.