The last time my life was as busy as it has been this spring was the year my second son came into the world. That sunny, damp day in mid-March 26 years ago set off a whirl of caregiving for family that only began to abate in 2002, when my first book emerged in the world. (The Geography of Memory.) This year, I am caregiving again, to the ideas and ethics embodied in my book on the Columbia River Treaty, A River Captured.
Books, like flowers and people, need care to thrive. Their rain is their readers, who keep things moist with engagement and curiosity. Their sun is libraries and grass roots organizations, folks from all over the beautiful Columbia Basin who have invited me to speak about the Treaty. Since early March, I have travelled thousands of kilometers, from Wentatche, WA to Missoula, MT. From Argenta to Slocan City BC, and many points between. I have sprinkled copies of my book across the landscape like flower petals. I have met many people who are concerned about the great Columbia River, and the health of its fish. I have met many people who are curious about the Treaty, who want what’s best for water, who wish to see the current paradigm of water management changed.
The unfolding of a flower’s petals relates to its own clock, a process timed to light and temperature, among other factors. Last week, I finally had a few moments to catch my breath. I took a walk down a gravel road surrounded by forest, close to the shores of Kootenay Lake’s West Arm. There, thriving in the roadside ditch, I greeted my old friend Tiger Lily, a tall, leggy gal whose courageous orange delights and surprises me every June.
Tiger lilies at one time provided important plant food to the Sinixt indigenous people, and to other tribes throughout the Interior of B.C. Women tended fields of the flashing orange bloom by burning back brush. They capitalized on the lily’s natural ability to thrive in the wake of low-intensity wildfires. I have never eaten one of the bulbs, but I am told that modern tastebuds find them peppery and slightly bitter. The bygone era of indigenous profusion has scattered the blooms into sparse number. Most often I see them surviving in roadside ditches. No one seems to care much about the flower.
Or so I thought.
A few days after that walk, I attended a seminar on water issues, hosted by indigenous women. Imagine my surprise when a young woman in attendance introduced herself by her Indian name, Tiger Lily. Encountering her willowy human beauty that day reminded me that there is always a possibility for a different future, one in which we might once again celebrate abundance that is truly local and intimately tied to a healthier, freer Columbia River.