The River Lives
The fact that it lives, that is my point. It is easy to think of the river as a living being. Some textbooks say that in order to be considered alive at least two things have to be evident: the ability to move from place to place in response to stimuli and the ability to reproduce. Purists will have other factors, but given these two criteria, the Atchafalaya is a living being.
Does it move in response to stimuli? It sure does. The rains falling down on the countryside up north stimulate the river. The water builds up and pushes the water before it, and the river moves south to join the Gulf. It does move more forcefully sometimes than others. In the spring it moves fast with much power, and it creeps up the bank to claim trees that have lain down, waiting for the rising water to carry them away. It moves over the banks and refreshes the swamp with new water full of oxygen – and because of this many other kinds of living things find a welcome place to lay eggs and nurse new generations. Sometimes an extreme has to happen, and it does. Raging waters are said to happen then. But “raging” only if they impact us, otherwise the water is moving in its normal way, just more so. Even these extremes can produce benefits such as new, rich silt spreading everywhere the water goes. We have limited these extremes of course, with our levees and dams and other water control structures.
In the summer the river moves more slowly, and sometimes it moves backward. But move it does. This slow current welcomes animals from the salt water, and they move up the river – crabs, river shrimp, sharks, flounders, etc., all find some reason to come up the river when the current slows in the summer.
Does the river reproduce itself? Maybe that depends on what we consider the river to be. Surely it is not just the water itself. No, a river is composed of the water and all that is influenced by the water. All the organisms in the river are part of it, as is the sediment the water carries and deposits along its course. The otters are part of the river; the great blue herons that make a living along the shallows are part of it. The beaver that ate the bark off of this willow limb is part of it. The trees that shed their pollen on its surface and use the water to spread their seeds are part of it. All of these things, the fishes, and thousands of others, use the water in some way to ensure that the next generation takes its place in the parade. And because of this I say the river does reproduce itself. Even if one would restrict the definition to the water itself, even then the river contributes to its own future by evaporating water to make clouds and the clouds replenish the river with rain.
And I think that because the river changes with time it is a living thing. It shifts the path it takes from high ground to lower levels, always trying to be efficient in seeking a place to rest. One year it flows past New Orleans, and the next year it may present itself at Morgan City’s front door. That path seems to be a quicker, more efficient way to reach the resting place.
It does not matter if the river empties into a lake before reaching the Gulf, or if it makes new land and divides itself into smaller streams as it pushes through that land. It does not matter if the river is shallow or deep. It is still the Atchafalaya River and it does its part to nourish the life in and around it. It is part of all that life, and all that life is a part if it. This is all one being, this great river, and it lives.
The living river is at 6.5 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge right now, moving with a rise to 7.3 in a couple days. This rise was enough to float my dock off of the bank where the terrific north winds of last week pushed it – a relief. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling up above. We will have no big water yet.
Rise and Shine, Jim