Commentary by Arden Henley
For the road ahead we need inspiration. Inspiration is Chris’ vocation and he does not fail us in the river carries that which the mountains cannot hold.
On a spring day this year Chris Kinman, dear friend, fellow traveller and colleague presented a ground-breaking doctoral dissertation to the community and to his Simon Fraser University committee. Congruent with his intent and with the work itself, though it was a defense there was no defense, just a gathering to listen to the tales he told and the ideas he put forward.
His account was organized by his journey along the Fraser River, what the river and its surrounds had to teach, the histories of the people who lived and died on its banks and the stories evoked from the memories of a multicultural tapestry, indigenous and European. Kinman provides us with mythopoetic introduction to the waters, land and its peoples, now so desperately in need of our care and protection.
Like a lover about his beloved……
“The Fraser leaves the landscape that we now call British Columbia, and she enters the sea. From the sea she originally came, and to the sea she eventually goes. This river remains a power of Gaia. We could dam her, we could poison her, we could minimize and belittle her, but she will continue to roll down to the sea. Her descent cannot be stopped. Passing through the city, and into the ocean, the Fraser River continues.”
“It ends where it began. The Fraser, the Stó:lō, returns to its birthplace. One can argue that the North Pacific is a certain origin, a place that can be seen as initiating the river’s creation. For, out in the cold Pacific, some of the flows of water are pulled upwards, evaporating into the east-surging currents of the atmosphere. There, they return to the rainforests of the West Coast, or on, into the high Rocky Mountains. They come, as they did before, as the seemingly never-ending rains and snows of winter storms. They recreate the river, one more time, and then again… and again…
This is a creation story — it is our creation story. This is a sacred story — these are our sacred flows of life and land, ecologies and histories, saltwater and freshwater. As it says in the Genesis creation story, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” So with this river, and with the sea, we have seen what it has made, we have travelled with its various flows, we have been pulled by its affects, entangled in its relations, and, I want to say — it was good. Perhaps even — it was very good.”
It was then………
We arrived at the southern end of the Arbutus Greenway, the moment when the neatly paved pathway runs out and turns into railway tracks, to the left residential, to the right, the place where industry and wildness meet…vacant lots overgrown by blackberries, acres of new cars, desolate lands behind chain link fences, warehouses and auto repair shops….further west the air a soothing damp…then, we came to an estuary of the Fraser.
It was then, I came closer to Chris’ journey, the river his companion, his inspiration, his teacher…..giving back sanity, calling forth mystery.
Memory located. Mind and nature one.
In framing his work, he observes:
“…….. I am describing here a type of problem that does not, first and foremost, enter a critique (though some of that will occur), but rather calls for an unfolding of something new that moves across the land and through souls and bodies. It invites a creativity, fresh impulses that not only discover but invent. In Deleuze’ words: “As Nietzsche succeeded in making us understand, thought is creation, not will to truth.” And, as Rajchman succinctly stated: “It is about forces that we can’t predict, with which we can only experiment – about what William James called ‘things in the making.’”
And introducing us to the guiding epistemology of his wandering, and his learning, he refers to the earthy rhizome:
“For me, the rhizome became an epistemological and ontological guide through the work that I was doing with families and communities. As an epistemological guide it gave direction as to where I should be looking for insight and assistance in my work with people and communities – I should be following people, and all living creatures, into the webs of relations that sustain their lives. As an ontological guide, the rhizome showed me a type of world that I was to acknowledge and move within, a world composed of innumerable lines of relationship, with these lines giving me and those I work with a sense of meaning and direction.”
Staying with this dark and earthy world…….
“We are, therefore, no longer talking about a tree of life, instead we are talking about a forest of life; that is, a rhizome forest, an ecology inclusive of countless trees, the innumerable connecting lines of fungi, and all the other living relations attached within this arboreal realm. A kind of complex underworld, called into language by Canadian curriculum scholar and poet, Shirley Turner:
to another environment
a subterranean fungal ecosystem
cultivation in a different tone
a new melody
dancing seeds to life
where the rainforest rules. “
Our separation from the lived world is as arbitrary as the skyscrapers that dominate the downtowns of cities throughout the world and induce us to forget our intimacy with the natural world. Merleau-Ponty describes this intimacy beautifully in an essay entitled ‘The Intertwining-The Chiasm’ in The Visible and the Invisible –
“The visible about us seems to rest in itself. It is as though our vision were formed in the heart of the visible, or there were between it and us an intimacy as close as between the sea and the strand.”
In this ‘deep interconnection’ we find the deepest healing powers…….
“For those of us in the human services professions — including education, healthcare, the therapeutic professions — this suggests that the wellness, the possibilities, the learnings, the healings that we are searching for with those we work with are already present, moving in diverse rhizome realms, in the forests, other ecosystems, and the varied webs of human relations to which we, and those we are working with, are all connected. For none of us stand alone like the tree presented by Deleuze and Guattari. No, rather we are like Whitman’s and Miller’s grass, and Simard’s interspecies fungi-forest relations, for we are all in the middle of living, in the middle of relationships, and we are all embedded in abundant rhizome worlds. Also, following Beresford-Kroeger, these webs of relations, these complex worlds that we find ourselves within, are capable of bringing health and healing, beauty and possibilities, to relations far beyond ourselves, far beyond the limits of our own bodies, minds, and histories. Somehow, together we connect across the forests, and, through the flows of winds, streams and rivers, pass on health and wisdom to ecological relations far beyond anything we can now foresee; and relations far beyond our own vision and knowledges. And, in turn, we receive health and wisdom from other ecological contexts, from locations that may be distant from our present realms; from faraway and unknown places. Sets of relation that come along and touch our contemporary living relations, and, consequently, also our undisclosed futures. “
Staying with Chris, here is our responsibility:
“However, we are anything but helpless here, there is creative action we can take, and must take. For we can create – that is, co-create – the overtures. We can create contexts where invitations are forwarded; where we can gather before the potentials of radical beginnings; where we can connect, converse, listen, encounter; where we can together compose new overtures, emboldening new symphonic possibilities.
Never far from the ‘riverrun’……
“It is evening, and I sit in a chair just outside my Kamloops hotel room watching the South Thompson River flow. Much life happens in this moment. A peregrine falcon flies over, all the other birds quietly disappear for the moment as she passes by. A little later, a goshawk is chased across the river by a quick, loud, cacophonous cooperation of crows and magpies. Redwing blackbirds and starlings, always alert, keep me company. The life of a river moves before me. The confluences of water and history associated with that river stay with me, haunting my work, my political leanings, my educational and therapeutic endeavours. Even my philosophical and spiritual loves and curiosities become much clearer in that moment. All is influenced by these confluences, here in Kamloops.
Speech acts wrested from
Born by the river
These forests, therefore, propose for us a joint future – not a planned and executed world, but a future which we, at this point in time, cannot see or imagine. And, isn’t that what a future is? If we knew in advance what the future would hold, it would be a present or a past, not a future. In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, “The task is not so much to plan for the future, organize our resources toward it, to envision it before it comes about, for this reduces the future to the present.” Perhaps, therefore, it is within these forests, these vast webs of relations, that we can discover, encounter, and become part of a future that is yet to come.”
I have come to appreciate; I have come to understand……
“I have also come to appreciate the knowledge that this land, and even its atmosphere, is also occupied by the ancestors of these people. The memories of all those who came before are marked into the landscapes and move in these winds and waters. Their bones too. The relations of the peoples to the land is complex, but these relations are alive and, if we listen carefully, we discover them written into the very soils, stones, snows, creatures, flows of water and air that we now encounter. It takes time, care and a willingness to learn and engage, to come to appreciate even a fraction of these land/people relations.”
“I have come to understand this turn to the experience of the mountain air, this high, in a profound way from the eagles, in another context altogether. Every November and December, out towards the coast, within Sts’ailes First Nation territory, particularly along the Harrison River and the Dewdney Slew (both waterways flow into the Fraser) the bald eagles return in epic numbers to feed upon the chum salmon that spawn along these waterways. I have been driving to Sts’ailes twice a week for the last 26 years and, through this time, have been closely watching the movements of these eagles. I have seen how, in the early morning, the eagles feed upon the dead salmon; then, when the daytime winds start to blow, and the updrafts awaken, the eagles take to the skies in vast numbers. If the winds are especially strong, the eagles soar upon the updrafts all the way to the very tops of the local mountains. You can see them as tiny dots moving in and out of sight through the altitude. Why do they do this? Certainly not for food – there is no shortage of nourishment at this time of year. Certainly not to conserve energy – there is no such need in this time and place. And, neither for sexual exploits — this is not yet the season for eagles’ mating activities. I have come to believe that the eagles do this mid/late morning flight for the sheer joy of it, for the pure elation of riding these winds, and of riding them together. If you watch carefully you will see as they move among these heights that they will often spar and jostle with each other, sometimes, for a brief moment, they even lock talons and, held together, spin like a propeller through the air. “
“It comes also with an appreciation that the very geographies I move upon daily are not packages of real-estate poised to generate profit; and neither are they wildernesses, empty and waiting for either our exploitation or protection. Rather, these geographies come occupied by peoples with undeniable and living relations to the land. I also learn there are ghosts from past times, ancestors who have never ceased to traverse these territories. For the dead have not gone away, they lie within this ground, and they move upon these lands, in hearts and minds, in conversations and traditions. I go to such places and peoples in response to a generosity I have been repeatedly shown in life and work. I have been permitted to learn something from how they have learned to think about and engage with this world.”
On my way…….
“A chorus of voices reverberate in my mind as I travel through the canyon and follow the Fraser River on my way home. I see the sun hiding behind the mountains, creating shadows on other mountains, and I recall Valerie telling me that at a particular time of the summer, and a particular time of the evening, a shadow resembling a horse appears on this one mountain. The appearance of this shadow-horse means it is time to set the nets in the river, for one of the salmon runs will have arrived. I wonder about all the shifts and movements of this ecology, an ecology permeated with the people who live with it. I wonder about all the dreams, the ghosts, the memories, the sufferings and joys that move with the land, with the sun, with the river. My trip home becomes occupied with an array of nomad spirits traveling waters and valleys.
This is an ontological calling. This is worldmaking. But, it is never simply a human activity, never simply an action of human social construction. It is something we do together with the ecological relations in which we are embedded. It is an earthly activity. The together which I am invoking here, is always an earthly togetherness. It is an earthly activity, a river activity, that always, of necessity, includes those people/peoples tied most intimately with the lands and waters.
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’tgonna study war no more.
Perhaps we can… (again) together… go down to the river – to this river, to the Fraser. Or, we could go to the sea. Or, into the streets of our city. Or, under the highway overpasses where some people actually live. With this river, with these streets, with that highway overpass, with living webs of relations that always surround us, and even with the divine beings that also might move amongst us, we can enter encounters, and we can, from the midst of these encounters, discover and co-create worlds in which we can find our actions.
Go… go to the river.
And from the midst of the relations that we find surrounding us while there, the river may, just perhaps, if we care to listen, let us know what might be next. Are we able to live with such tentative, yet (I would suggest) explosive possibilities?
I hope so. For that seems to be the way the river flows.
The river carries that which the mountains cannot hold.