Remembering the River

Welcome to my new blog. I’ll begin by telling you a story:

When I was eight years old, I undertook the hardest hike of my life, a seven-mile roundtrip trek up and down 2,000 feet of High Sierra granite to the top of Nevada Falls.

My dad had suggested the hike the night before while we were sitting by our campfire in Yosemite Valley. “We could just give it a try, see how far we can go,” he said. And then, as if to seal the deal, he added: “You know, the best tasting water in the world is at the top of Nevada Falls.”

I remember thinking I really wanted to do it. I also remember knowing in my bones that I could not possibly hike that far.

We set out the next morning, taking it slow, making our way skyward through pines and cliffs. The trail was steep, and I soon grew tired. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and at some point it dawned on me that I was going to make it. All it took was to keep going—one step at a time.

When we arrived, we had to raise our voices to speak over the roaring water; clouds of spray filled the air and far below stretched the glorious Yosemite Valley. We ate lunch on a granite slab a few yards past the top of Nevada Falls.

My dad dipped his canteen into the river, and we drank the pure mountain snowmelt. And, he was right, it did have an exquisite taste which was heightened by the satisfaction of having achieved something I thought was impossible.

Twenty-five years later, when my dad was dying, I returned to Nevada Falls. I wanted to bring him a canteen filled with the best water in the world. But when I reached the top of the falls, I found a sign reading:

Caution: Contaminated water.

Do not drink.

My dad died more than 20 years ago, but I can’t forget that sign. For me, it represents how much of the natural world we have lost.

We live in the strangest of times, an unprecedented era of human-caused extinctions. Whales and rain forests and condors and tigers and wetlands are disappearing—just like the river from my childhood at Nevada Falls.

As a species, Homo sapiens face a daunting task to preserve as much of Earth’s biodiversity as possible as we navigate what biologist E. O. Wilson calls “a bottleneck of overpopulation and overconsumption.” What humans do in the next few decades will determine how much of the richness of Earth’s life makes it through to the other side.

At times, it seems like an impossible task. But like so many others, I am determined to do what can be done, to keep moving up the mountain one step at a time, to remember the river.


  1. Chris Weil says

    That was a really powerful story. Thank you for sharing – great way to start this new blog.

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