3/25/22 I started editing this in a pages doc
In late summer of 2012, a stark and strangely beautiful photographic image in a National Geographic issue caught my eye and proceeded to hold my heart spellbound; eerily captive.
Then another image. Confronting.
Stunning aerials, but I could make no sense of what I was seeing.
I saw ROOTS at a scale that was incomprehensible.
I turned page after glossy page, skimming over the text looking for an answer.
What I began to understand woke me hard. Poked me; belief shattering.
I had a long distant love relationship with this place, though I’d never seen nor set foot here. My body knew it well before my mind could comprehend. What I was seeing was the immense Colorado River, uprooted from the Sea. Her roots dangling in the dry air; dismembered from the Gulf of California.
But, wait….Rivers flow to the sea.
In a flood of recognition I learned that the mighty, sinuous, Colorado was so severely damned and diverted along its’ entire length that it did not reach the Sea. An unthinkable thought. This had been true for decades; the insatiable thirst to dominate nature, and less so- drought, being the core cause. The vast Delta was cracked and dry. Rain events channelled water and left their imprint; the dry roots that opened wide a maw of grief I’d not previously known.
In the midst of it, I asked myself several times, ‘Why this enraging and heart breaking grief, here and now, when there are countless other devastations and desecrations racking the peopled world and wild world that should rightly bring me to my knees? Offenses that could rightly swallow me whole?’ I noticed that when I shared these images and the current fate of the Colorado River with other feeling people, river lovers and others, they empathized, shook their heads and also found it to be an abomination.
It did not consume them….
But consume me, it did. And I consented. I knew to follow this blood trail of fascination entwined with outrage and horror, heartbreak and grief. I couldn’t have articulated it in such clarity then but I was allowing a particular part of the world to which I was related, find me, and reach into me. ‘Follow the trail of your deepest grief, your deepest longing, your deepest love’ was one of many seeds of sage guidance I had received from guides and mentors in my soul journey. I’d taken this to heart, but had not been found by such an immense grief-love until now.
I placed the disturbing and beautiful images where I would not turn away, at least for long; bedroom wall, bathroom mirror, breakfast table top. I felt into each image, they reached into me; my body which held its particular imprint of violation and uprooting. Of course this is one way I would be called, how it would register within me and capture my attention; In my most exquisitely sensitive and painful place.
Sequence the rage, sequence the heartbreak through. Breathe, now and now. Hour after day after week. Let the grief flood through you. Take breaks. Turn away. Turn and look again. Feel it all.
How could we have…?
The vast and dusty devastation that the Colorado Delta had become, only 80 years earlier, was described by settlers and explorers of European descent as a ‘jungle delta’; a wild maze of clear lagoons, reeds and cattails. Brackish water. A biodiverse meeting of worlds, a fecund ecotone. Nutrient rich sediments and invisible elements were carried in seasonal cycles by the rivers of the CO Basin and set down into the sea. I read accounts by of wild watermelons, jaguar tracks, vast numbers and species of birds populating and migrating through the delta.
How had I been ignorant of this? How had I not seen? I hadn’t really considered the course of the river once it emerged below the Grand Canyon. Let alone beyond “Lake” Mead. Since 2000 I’d paddled and rowed on many navigable sections the 1560 mile Colorado and her tributaries, slept under the stars, camped on river banks with my daughters and other loved ones; returned again and again. The Colorado through Ruby and Horsethief, Westwater, Pumphouse, Grand Canyon. The San Juan, the Dolores, the Green, the Yampa…
I’d been quietly obsessed with tracking the flow and many confluences of the waterways that had become part of my life: McElmo Creek flows into the San Juan River which is then swallowed by damed Lake Powell and drops its loads of sediment though some of its water eventually squeeks under the Glen Canyon dam and then through the Grand Canyon, and so on… I’d guided people into wild places who were seeking deep mystical and embodied communion with nature, seeking encounter with their own deepest nature and belonging with the world. This vocation called me into the mountains and deserts of the CO Basin, and I returned again and again to gratefully drink from the same artisanal springs and creeks in the San Juan Mountains, the Abajos, Cedar Mesa, and more. Some years were dusty and tense with drought. While in times we were deluged by rain and hail storms that would have rightly flowed all the way to the sea.
A handful of months passed from my first glimpse of those images.
October. I’m in my bed before dawn, waking, yet still lightly cocooned within dreams, neither asleep nor awake. In the most liminal dreaming state.
The Tall Being we call the Colorado and the Mother Sea are in tumultuous conversation in my body.
The Sea calls from south of the border to the River.
She is in anguish; missing her freshwater daughter who has not returned home for so long. Something is very wrong.
She is calling her lost one to come home.
Further north my heart aches with the fullness of the river at snow melt. The freshwater daughter hears her mother’s call and gravity tugs on her to run toward to the Sea. The freshwater daughter, though ancient and mighty in her own right, has been slowed and detained, diverted and weakened; she’s been forced to drop the many gifts she has always carried. She falls to her knees miles and miles short of the dry Delta, unable to continue.
The Sea; Her grief is terrible. Grieving and enraged, she rises up at her shores with immense longing to re-member their bodies.
Her longing is a force of nature that melts glaciers, spins hurricanes, rolls and crashes.
She is a force of Nature.
But there are still miles to go…
I awaken into this story, into this dreaming, tears drenching the pillow. Without thought, without warning, a voice rises from inside me, surprising me. It is my voice, “I will carry you to the sea”.
I will carry word of you, a taste of you, to your mother. So she knows you are weakened and cannot make the journey all the way home. Maybe she can help you?
As I woke further the task and the promise shook me. As it landed I knew it was true. And I was speechless. I made a few notes in my journal and tucked it away.
For several weeks my life continued on course much as it had before. The dreaming memory resided in me, bobbing just below the waterline, semiconscious. The promise lived like a tender secret without speaking of it to anyone. Forgetting was a risk. On January 5, 2013- A rear ending incident 3 months after that dreaming morning left me whiplashed and mildly brain injured. I was slowed way down, and shock waves reached into my foundation, stirred things up and brought the memory again to the surface of my wavering awareness. In a sputtering attempt 3 days later I mentioned the dreaming and my vow to someone I barely knew. The amnesia remained prevalent, the dream and promise alive but dormant.
In the late spring of 2013 the dreaming surfaced like a spring pulsing and whispering its song to the topside world. I was on the road with my friend and co-guide Nate to guide an Animas Quest. I spilled out the story along two lane mountain roads on our way to Durango in a kind of council ceremony while he listened. He engaged with me deeply, drawing out more and holding it with me. And that rooted the dreaming in this world, in a very much needed way. A few days later, while the questers were in the well of their solo vigil time, I ritually approached a generous gushing spring on that mountainside in the Abajos. Carrying a small nalgene bottle, I asked for consent to carry her water to the Sea. ‘You no longer reach your mother the sea and she is grief stricken. May I carry you, word of you, to her?’
I approached other springs and creeks and rivers of The Basin in this very way in the next months. The ones I knew best and returned to cyclically, again and again. I would eventually ask others who lived within the CO Basin to approach their home waters in this spirit and to mail me a tiny bottle of that water if they were granted permission. My home was not in The Basin but on the Front Range; I’d lived since 1989 just a few miles west of the Continental Divide in the Boulder Valley, where the rolling Great Plains meet the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at about a mile high. Denver and other parts of the semi-arid eco zone of the Front Range is where roughly 40% of the headwaters of the CO are diverted; pumped over passes and abducted through tunnels bored through mountainsto meet the insatioable demand of agriculture people, industry, fracking insanity,
I felt how absurd it was to gather fresh water from the San Juan River, the Animas, the nascent Colorado in RMNP and drive it over the Divide to sit in jars in my bedroom……. for the sea, by hand and by mail, in my bedroom there
Throughout the summer I continued to struggle (and strangely blessed) with an injured brain and had no idea, no plan, how or when I would make my way south into Mexico with the water, nor with whom I would go to the Delta and the ‘dry mouth’ of the CO River in the Gulf of California. I had barely even opened a map.
It’s August and I am guiding a second Animas Quest with Nate outside of Telluride CO. A dear man from Mexico City was the last to sign on to the group of 12. In the closing council of that 11 day quest, at 11,000 feet, I spoke my heart story of what I was hearing and the promise I had made. Unbeknown to any of us, Rodolfo served as a passionate environmental steward, who as part of his focus brought essential funding, leadership and his deep love and care to the CO River Delta, the fresh waters and the sea. Then and there, he vowed to accompany me. ‘ Your pilgrimage is my pilgrimage.’
Holy holy did that bring me to my knees. Nate, too. Giddy with the synchronicity. Rodolfo kept his promise so beautifully.
It’s a long story, perhaps for another time. But, six months later I was standing with Rodolfo and his friend, Osvel Hinosa of …… and a handful of others on a little shallow of land IN THE MOUTH of the Colorado River at the most northern reach of the Gulf of California. The height of the incoming tide of sea water filled the shallow, nearly indiscernible mouth of the CO river, allowing us entry skipping along like stone in a local fisherman’s motorized fishing boat, a panga. Rodolfo showed me a visual via a gps screen tracking our progress that we were in the mouth. To know that place in my body, in the light of day, well…. something got rearranged in me. Some understanding came together that I have no words for.
There I ritually set down the fresh CO Basin waters into the warm tidal waters of the Sea, just as the tide was turning and She was drawing her waters out again.
Just a ‘Word’ from the freshwater daughter. She lives and cannot make it home. I would leave it to the Sea. And continue to listen as I could.
There is more to this story. But here I set it down, for now. I’ve come to know the CO Basin and the water cycle as a vast Love Story of the earth and water that has been going on for thousands and thousands of years. I continue to listen, and forget and go missing and remember and return to participate in the Love Story as I am instructed. I will depart at the end of March (2021) to ritually move (drive) from the Headwaters of the Upper Colorado Basin to the Lower CO Basin border with Mexico. I will lift, carry and set down earth-water from tributaries all along the way, over dams and around diversions- and just as far as I can make it; this time without crossing the border into Mexico, and just short of the Delta.
Now, I leave this with you:
What grief-love-fascination-outrage cracks you open, and perhaps, especially, ‘beyond reason’?
Will you follow the thread where it leads?
What has or will the Dreaming of night or day bring and set down upon the shore of your dreaming heart? Is there a promise you have forgotten? A vow to be made around the next bend in the river? We are never ‘ready’. I was not ready. The question seems to be; will you listen? are you willing?
One who is re-membering the UnderStory of the LoveStory of the EarthWater Rising and Falling
© Mary Marsden
Freely share this story with loved ones if you are moved to. Spoken, or this printed version. Please do not post on social media or publish in any form without my explicit permission.
I’m seeking an opening to more widely share this and other writing centered in the CO Basin. Reach my way if you have a lead.
*credit to Peter McBride for his exquisite photography-beauty-making-environmental & far reaching activism https://petemcbride.com/IMAGES/source-to-sea/1. All images are in the book…
has been detained, bought and sold, abducted to other lands, little by little drained of strength and held captive, unable to return home as she always had to her mother with the treasures and stories she once carried.