Stories from the Parkway: “I feel that I am home”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Katie Bauer –

I’ve lived in a lot of places in the Sacramento region, and recently returned here after living abroad for a time. Like many people of my generation, my family members are scattered far and wide, and I’ve moved from place to place for jobs, relationships, or school; despite making frequent trips “home” to another part of the state where I grew up and where my parents have lived for many years, I’ve always had trouble in answering the question “Where are you from?” It has only been in recent years when I’ve begun making regular visits to the American River that I’ve begun to develop what many call a “sense of place.”

While living in other parts of the world, no matter how beautiful, I began to develop a deep homesickness, though it took me a while to understand what exactly it was that I was missing. Where was this “home” I felt lonesome for? When I returned to a favorite walking spot along the river for the first time after a long absence, it suddenly struck me: the landscape of this place had become so familiar and comforting to me that being away from it was what caused the ache. I missed oak woodlands with their golden-dry hills in the fall, tall stands of cottonwood with their drifting fluff suspended in the air, and the winter fog settling low like thick wool over the river. I missed the way the land looked and felt, and I missed gazing a long way downriver to where the water has bent the land and vanishes around the turn.

The access to the natural spaces along the river through the Parkway is something I feel more grateful for every year. As a parent it offers fascinating places for me to take my eight-year-old son for walks, leading to hours of unplugged playtime and outdoor learning – you might find us photographing caterpillars or examining oak galls, skipping rocks or hunting for the prettiest shades of wildflowers growing along the trails. It brings tears to my eyes every time my son squeals with joy at seeing a salmon splash through the riffles on its own journey home, or when his voice instinctively lowers in hushed awe when we spot a doe and her baby resting in the tall summer grasses. It’s so important to me that children grow to know a place deeply enough to want to protect and preserve it, and I can’t imagine a better place to help my son develop this crucial wonder and respect for the land.

Amongst our community of friends, the river has become a place we are drawn to for marking important occasions like birthdays or graduations; more often it’s just where we go when we want to be together. It’s also where we gather with loved ones when things are just plain hard or the world seems not to make sense: does the water flowing by carry away some of our pain, or does it only seem that way? There’s something about taking note of the matter-of-factness of nature, no matter how harsh it may seem at times, which never fails to set my mind at peace: the woodpeckers are busily storing their acorns, the egret patiently stalks in the shallows, the mushrooms peek out of the duff, and the salmon are going home. And I feel that I am home, too.

All photos by Katie Bauer

Katie Bauer is an educator with a passion for all-things-science, a photography enthusiast, and is happiest when hiking or baking. She has lived in Chile, Colombia, and all over California, but has felt most “at home” in Sacramento since arriving in the area in 2001. Find her on Instagram: @aftermyown_heart.

Sunset Kayak on the American River

Stories from the Parkway: “Paddling down the river never ceases to amaze me”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Nick Carlson –

Sliding my kayak gently into the water, it’s not hard to grasp why in a few short years how this river has become so significant to me. I’ve come to know this river’s fickle moods. Its high water winters and early spring rush, its summertime playfulness, and its autumn bounty when the native Chinook salmon swim back upstream to spawn. I’ve paddled its slumberous wide curves and through its fast water rapids. I’ve watched its water roaring like thunder pouring its last dam and followed its a clear and bright emerald ribbon of water all the way to its end to dip my bow in at its milky confluence.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure.” I heartily agree. For me and many others, Northern California’s Lower American River is a rare jewel to behold. Fed by the melting snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the river is an essential source for the area’s drinking water, a productive provider of irrigation and hydroelectric power, and recreational highway for paddlers and fishermen. In its final twenty-some miles before pouring into the Sacramento River, it dispenses a peaceful serenity and magic to every creature along its wild banks despite being so near urban complexities of the city. And yes, to a certain extent it seems to be a living being in itself.

I often tell people paddling with me that after we push off onto the river they will be experiencing a totally different world even though we are in the heart of a densely populated urban area. Paddling down the river never ceases to amaze me of how I can escape into a backyard of nature just a few minutes from the buzz of city traffic. Where the only sound you will hear is that of birds, the wind and that primeval summons to our primordial values, the call of distant rapids coming from downriver.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”

“A river seems a magic thing,” declared photographer Laura Gilpin, “A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

Sitting alongside the Lower American River earlier this week, the river does seem alive as it moved steadily to the sea. Flashes of Chinook salmon among the river’s ripples, scores of gulls, ducks and turkey vultures soar and flutter above, while I catch sight of black-tailed deer bounding through the stream. A large beaver tail splash serves as a warning that I’ve come a just bit to close to his domain while chattering otters bark at my passing. The trees, vegetation, and even the rocky pilings that extend all the way along the stream add to the inspirit to this living essence.

It’s nature’s age-old symbiotic relationships between the river and all of its creatures. As long as the water keeps flowing, the river and the life it nurtures will continue to exist.

As humans in the era of climate change, we need to recognize this natural world around us and make our duty to care for it, protect it, and pass it on to generations to come

Nick Carlson is a California based kayaking photographer and river guide. A storyteller and amateur theologian, he writes the weekly blog Outside Adventure to the Max where he shares about his journey and paddling & water issues.