Of Beavers and ButterfliesApril 10, 2020
By: Lauren Wood
We all sit in a great stillness, in a liminal moment waiting for things to ‘get back to normal’ while wondering if ‘normal’ is ever a term we will use again. We all feel in our bones that this moment will fundamentally alter the world as we know it. It is a deep and disarming feeling. This great pause has indeed been painful, but also reminds me, as a naturalist, of the most poignant of metaphors found in the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies.
At 19 months old my child became obsessed with cocoons (or chrysalis’). Reading Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar has become as ritualistic as hand washing in our house as of late. And every time we get to the cocoon Luca exclaims “Coo-Coon!” as loud as possible, as if perhaps on some mystical level he understands the gravity of becoming; the power of something in between.
Rebecca Solnit recently wrote about this transformation in The Guardian; “When a caterpillar enters its chrysalis, it dissolves itself, quite literally, into liquid. In this state, what was a caterpillar and will be a butterfly is neither one nor the other, it’s a sort of living soup. Within this living soup are the imaginal cells that will catalyze its transformation into winged maturity.” This great becoming orchestrated by these imaginal cells is darn-near magical. Aptly named, these cells are able to imagine a new form into being out of great uncertainty.
When the news broke that the Covid-19 pandemic would be requiring us all to radically alter our daily lives I, like you all, found myself in a new surreal reality: sharing Vulkan salutes with loved ones instead of hugs, methodically cleaning, & generally distancing from everyday life. I felt a wave of grief when it became evident that we won’t be able to run some of our early season trips. But amid this anxiety and grief I remembered I was raised by a river, and if it taught me anything, it was that change was one thing I could always depend on; and that like every other species, we must and we WILL adapt.
The river also taught me change isn’t necessarily all bad. A beaver for instance often alters the landscape dramatically and the course of a whole side-stream changes, yet in its wake abundant life and a whole niche ecosystem is created. A river guide gets giddy with news of a rock slide, temporarily damming the river. We wait patiently to see what awesome new rapids will be created, remaking the canyon’s character for centuries to come. As we all sit in this pregnant-pause together I challenge myself every day to seek out ways that I can be present for where and when opportunities arise to change this world for the better. I meditate on the possibilities that lie in a changed world.
As Greta Thuenberg recently pointed out, “There is a lot of talk about returning to ‘normal’ after the Covid-19 outbreak. But normal was a crisis.” As both a lover of healthy rivers and a long time climate justice organizer, I can’t help but find some reason for hope in this disruption of normalcy as it has given many of us a moment to look around as wild new realities we never thought possible before come into being. Rebecca Solnit reminds us, “The outcome of disasters is not foreordained. It’s a conflict, one that takes place while things that were frozen, solid and locked up have become open and fluid.” This place of fluid change is one us river guides feel particularly at home in. Our lives spent on rivers have led us to be particularly adept at planning for the worst and therefore able to adapt and enjoy the best any day has to offer us; it is indeed the “Holiday Way”.
Here at Holiday we are, like everyone else, going with the flow and adapting to the ever changing protocols this time demands. When I worry about an uncertain future and what this time in our collective chrysalis will mean, I am comforted by the simple fact that no-matter how long this pandemic requires us to maintain distance from each other –and the places we cherish– those places are still there: rivers pulsating with seasonal flows restoring vibrant ecosystems, vast arid landscapes dutifully growing soil crust, rapids drumming out an eternal rhythm for us all to remember them by. And all the while we are taking stock of what parts of our humanity are most precious.
The little things falling away and the deeply meaningful ones floating to the top of our consciousness. My mind’s soup has been a daily reminder of how much we humans need rivers. Every day I am reminded of how lucky we are at Holiday to visit these remarkable natural temples, and share them with you all. These places of refuge and tranquility; these places of thunderous power have, now more than ever, many lessons to teach us all. I look forward to the day we can all safely reunite under a canopy of stars on a wild river.
Until then I’ll leave you with one last offering from Solnit’s thoughts on transformation; “May the best among us, the most visionary, the most inclusive, be the imaginal cells – for now we are in the soup.”
~Stay safe, healthy and resilient dear Holiday friends,
Lauren Wood, Trip Director & Co-owner of Holiday River Exp.