In late summer, I would swim and stream-walk a small section of the Raccoon River. While sedimented for decades now, the water was clear in the shallows. For a few years now, the water is pea-green from edge-to-edge. For decades and worse now, this water has strongly contributed to a vast hypoxia zone in the Gulf.

In the 1980s, I wrote about the wisdom of the river, focusing on the Des Moines River as a living, very open metaphor for the essential streaming dynamic of the universe that is within us as well in the streaming of our body metabolism and thought.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Lance Kinseth, Heron On River 1, ink

Text extracted from unpublished novella, Lance Kinseth, 
This Single Grace Persisting, A Man & A Woman Who Caught On Fire

The essence of rivers becomes wise people.
from “Mountains And Waters Sutra”
(Sansui-kyo, Section 14)

TO KEEP A RIVER is to do no less than to become a river.  To keep a river is to live awake to a sense of being deeply--profoundly--immersed rather than standing apart.

To keep a river is to begin to awaken to rivers of development, land uprising and eroding, currents of seasons and stars and respiration and thought.  To keep is river is to have the very best of high human life. 

River-keeping is not a recapitulation of a feudal tradition of water and game management on vast estates nor is it modern-day public conservation.  This is not to say that these activities cannot be entryways.  The feudal river keeper’s continual presence with the physical river may swell to devotion to the river more than to the estate.  River-keeping is finally neither economic stewardship of a physical landscape nor simply blissful pursuit of an intimate affection for the river.

River-keeping is spiritual revelation that transforms the keeper--opening to the way that they themselves are being kept by the river, by place.  The keeping is the river’s and the good grasses’ keeping.  And when this is downplayed and even forgotten, “conservation” and “stewardship” are false illusions that serve other agendas.

River-keeping is more than keeping a line of water in some particular state.  The river and the soils that it drains are more than a line and a tabletop.  They express a living intelligence that we can only join and, for all of our exquisite knowledge, never completely know.  To understand the river, we can neither push it nor cut it into parts.  We can go and listen and sound in these landscapes but only barely fathom energies that are woven into the morning star and beyond. While we will use these terrains, such actions tend to create a wall more than absorb us, and therein lies a danger that can “un-keep” us.

If we could keep this river--this rivering that is inherent in the land, in the incoming rainfall and its ocean, in the sun current, and inside each of us--what might our agriculture and our cities become?  Why is it that we settle for so little, and even decimate that which keeps us, that which is the heart of health and life to us? 

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