Last Sunday I walked the bed of the old Lake Aldwell. With the removal of the dam, the Elwha River is now winding her way through the surreal landscape that the lake left behind. Stumps of Cedar trees, some at least six feet across are like sentinels watching the river reclaim her path.
When I first heard about the dam removal, I didn’t connect with the story. I had never been there and I had no visuals. But last weekend’s visit changed that. The river’s delight was palpable and at night, from the campground, her song was like ocean surf. The thunder and lightning and occasional rainfall were the perfect accompaniment for this dramatic change. Salmon are already making their way up river, and soon, when the second dam is removed, they will go all the way home. The Elwha story, seen in person, is inspirational.
Once I got home again and rejoined the hectic flow of my working life, I no longer felt the Elwha surging forward. It wasn’t until I was on my bicycle this morning that I realized what a great metaphor the story of the Elwha is for trying times. In particular, for making significant changes in my own life.
Before the dam could be removed, there were years of planning and, once the actual dismantling began, that process was slow and meticulous also. Years of sediment had built up behind the two dams and the plan was to let the river carry it downstream in incremental steps. I got to thinking about my current desire to leave my lifelong work of marine canvas and carve a new path and the Elwha reminded me that such a big change will take time and careful planning. The work has generated a living for me for over 35 years and I can’t just pull the plug.
Once I remove the old work, and begin to find my new course, there are bound to be obstacles like old growth dreams that will suddenly appear. I may alter my path numerous times. There will be accumulations of memories, fond and not, that will need to be carried forward. There will be people who support my changes and people who will resist them.
But whether I carry the metaphor to the tiniest details, the real gift is in remembering the feeling of the Elwha in her newly recovered freedom. In having a current process of removal, complete with videos and blogs, to gather inspiration and wisdom for my own changes. To have nature as my mentor.
I imagine that I am that great river, dammed long ago for a good reason, and now, about to be set free. And I am also the salmon, waiting at the mouth of the river, hungry to move upstream, to travel home again, to spawn new ideas, then ride the rapid river to the wild and open page.