Rivers’ Symbolic and Spiritual Values by Phillip Wallin

Beyond the intrinsic values, there are symbolic values that make rivers special for millions of people:

~~  Rivers define the landscape for most of our population

~~  Rivers are the “canary in the coal mine” an index of watershed quality and early warning of environmental problems.

~~  A such, rivers are a rallying point for environmental concerns throughout the watershed:  forest management, mining practices, roads and highways, water supply and conservation, toxic wastes, industrial pollution, farming practices, urban growth and land use planning.

~~  Rivers are also a rallying point for local control in the face of pressures by outside economic interests for water storage, navigation, hydropower and so on.

~~  Rivers were the historic pathways for exploration and settlement, and they remain embodied in our song and literature….

~~  Rivers symbolize permanence, carving their path from the mountains to the sea over the millennia.  They contrast with the 100-year lives of dams, the salting up of irrigated land, the boom and bust of mining and logging.

~~  Rivers embody the free work that nature does for human kind in all the ways above, in contrast to the expensive and fallible systems that engineers construct.

~~  Most important, but most difficult to talk about is the spiritual quality of rivers.  As Ken Olsen writes:  “Rivers are refuges for the soul, places of spiritual refreshment, where the natural flow and play of running water plainly mirrors the movement of life itself.”

Source: River Voices, Spring, 1995, The River Network






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