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.

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