A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Delaware River image 1 green hills

Delaware River Valley

A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Throughout most of Robert Macfarlane’s books on old ways and wild places, I’m right there with him. But I part ways with this adventuresome author, –quite literally–, when he speaks of the capacity of valleys to “shock our thoughts.” Macfarlane’s idea of a valley involves “cresting a ridge,” and “significant dropping away of the ground” at his feet.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 1

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It surprises me to disagree with this powerful, experienced, eloquent writer. I’ve ‘journeyed’ with him for weeks now, learning not only amazing trails in Scotland and Ireland mostly, but also a string of new vocabulary words to equal my year in Provence. I honor Macfarlane and yet I beg to differ as to the meaning and effect of valleys.

Goat Hill View of Delaware River Valley Brenda Jones

Goat Hill Preserve View of Delaware looking north, by Brenda Jones

The last thing that comes to my mind concerning valleys is edges or crests.
I do rejoice in his emphasis on valleys’ capacity. What would be my valley words?
wide / broad
deep / profound
often wooded,
comforting
welcoming
enveloping
gentling
soothing
often blessed by waterfalls
laved by streams, sometimes invisible, even inaudible.
silence except for birdsong, and/or breezes in treetops
secluded
subtle
places of solitude
rich in grandeur

Materhorn reflected

Materhorn Valley

I feel wrapped by every valley I revisit in memory.

Hopewell Valley Paintking by Joe Kaziemierczyk

Hopewell Valley from St. Michaels Preserve

by Joe Kazimierczyk

Macfarlane’s “edge-dropping-off” phenomenon was the harsh reality in Provence’s Gorge du Verdon. I drove it, –rather well, actually–, but there was no welcoming atmosphere, such as suffuses me in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorges du Verdon Valley 1

Gorge du Verdon, Provence, France

 

Even studded with trees and tumbled with rocks, the valleys I’ve hiked and kayaked have been hushed.

Delaware River Kayaking at Bulls Island

Kayaking the Delaware River North from Bull’s Island

I seek valleys as antidotes to our harsh world, this arena of bustle, noise and harm

Maroon Bells storm

Maroon Bells Valley, which I’ve known only on skis

In the depths of valleys, light trickles in like sunrays pouring from distant cumulus clouds. It’s something about light juxtaposed with darkness, and its effect on me is uplift, otherwise known as hope.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with rainbow

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone With Rainbow

Valleys cradle life: In certain seasons, in certain valleys, salmon splash and writhe en route to natal sites. Eggs will be released in pristine pools, above glistening pebbles, in soundless eddies of whatever waterway blesses that valley.

Oregon Columbia River Gorge from Cascade Locks

Columbia River Gorge, May 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Remoteness and stillness are essential for this recurring miracle. Along their way, creatures from ospreys to eagles to bears, and God knows how many microbes, will have been nourished, while the sapping away of salmon essence nourishes towering trees.

Indian fishing for spring chinook in Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 006

Indian Fishing The Old Ways, Des Chutes River, near Columbia

Oregon 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Some valleys, such as the Columbia and its tributaries, belong to the Indians, their ancient ways and skills.

Tying the Net Spring Chinook Run along Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 010

Tying the Net, Des Chutes River

Oregon, 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

“Valley” has a somewhat different meaning in our Hopewell Valle, our Delaware River Valley. Here, ‘the Valley’ is something to be protected at all costs, both land and water. At D&R Greenway we have worked day and night, since 1989, –protesting, writing, negotiating, funding, pondering, discussing, acting, publicizing, celebrating, even literally building trails and weeding, then planting the natives of the Delaware Valley. We create art and science events to call attention to the urgency of preserving these valleys and their sacred waterways, in perpetuity. We were founded to save waters and lands of the Delaware & Raritan Canal. We’re now in seven counties, including the lands and waters of the sacred Delaware Bay, guarding the watershed, of that essential River, and the sea to which she journeys.

Table View Black Bass Autumn 2010

View of Delaware Valley from Table at Black Bass Inn

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

In the 1980’s, a broad array of people from New Jersey and Pennsylvania fought and lost the battle to prevent “The Pump” from removing 200 million gallons a day from our tidal river. We did succeed in lowering the amount of water taken daily, to cool a nuclear plant on the Susquehanna. It is hard to hold full gratitude and pride for a partial victory. But the Delaware, creator of this valley, thrives because of those efforts. Some of its reaches have been officially named “wild and scenic.” Some of its reaches welcome the holy shad each April, on their run to their natal territories.

Delaware's Watery Beauty, Spring

Peaceful Delaware River Spring from Bull’s Island

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Once, hiking in bathing suits and bare feet, my family climbed down a Jamaican valley, accompanied by a blithe waterfall. At the bottom, we sat for timeless time, in the salt sea, blessed by the freshwater falls. That startling juxtaposition remains rare. That Jamaica valley recedes into mythic time. But the blending of salt and fresh takes place each day in our Delaware, all the way up to Trenton. One spring, a whale demonstrated this reality by coming so far after shad in the spring that it could be seen at the Scenic Observatory on Route 295 adjacent to Trenton.

East Point  The Beckoning   Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay at East Point Light

Fall 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

The valleys of memory take many forms. For me, none involves “shock”. Macfarlane is a phenomenal writer, and taking virtual hikes with him enriches my days and nights. Valleys are not, however, about edges dropping away below my feet. Valleys are refuge; valleys are home.

Materhorn Valley image evening

How the Materhorn Valley Shelters at Night

when you’re staying/skiing in Zermatt

Long ago, I fell in love with Robert Frost’s description of woods as “lovely, dark and deep.” Valleys are the true possessors of that description.

 

4 thoughts on “A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

  1. A beautiful meditation. To me, a valley is gentle, where a gorge connotes a severe drop off, a gash, if you will – but one that probably took eons to form if water was involved.

  2. Love the words and images! I think of my time in the Rockies and the Sierras, both winter and summer, and agree with your descriptive words. I also think about the thunderstorm coming over the ridge beside the valley, the ragging waters of snow melt in the spring, the shadows cast on a valley campsite in the early afternoon. The valley for me is a place of serenity, hidden secrets and of “power.”

  3. Alan, thank you so very much, for your poetic response to Valleys. You take me with you to yours! I did leave out ‘power’, didn’t I — let’s say it is supplied by the images. It matters that this post is evocative.

    Best always, c

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