A Geopoetic Pilgrim — Quarterly Letter 3

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.-Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams


Dear Readers,
I am in between river journeys now, a perfect time to write about what these last months in the wintery north have held.
The Torne River flows in a landscape of taiga forest marked by the Baltic Sea to the south and the pitched mountains along the Norwegian coast to the north, a region dramatically affected by glaciation from Earth’s most recent ice age and is today frozen half the year. When I met Kjell Kangas who grew up in the region, he told me that he thinks of Tornedalen, Torne Valley, more as archipelago than river valley. Over the heaths and bogs of land still upwelling, lightened from the weight of billions of tons of ice, flow five large rivers — Torne, Kalix, Lainio, Tarendo, and Muonio. Each river is connected to the four others as if the water is weaving a web around the taiga forest, and most impressively, none of these rivers has a dam. 
In winter, Torne is a 550 km blanket of snow covering a foundation of blue, crystal ice that in many places will support the weight of a tractor. Elsewhere, long tumbling rapids prohibit the ice from forming, and the black river bursts through its icy ceiling, raging white over stones and reminding the traveler of caution, that this is indeed a lively river. 
For 200 km, Torne marks the boundary between Sweden and Finland, and many of the Tornedaleners who generously invited me into their homes and shared stories of the place, told of the compelling history that entwines itself through the borderland. Linguistically, Tornedalen is home to Swedish, Sámish, Finnish, Miënkieli, and most recently English. Miënkieli literally means “our language,” and it is a form of antiquated Finnish that has absorbed some Swedish over the years. It is the living, breathing reminder that just over 200 years ago, there was no boundary in Tornedalen, and the residents were northern Finns, Sámi, and Kvener, not Swedish speakers, living within the Swedish Kingdom that maintained sovereignty over the region since the middle ages. 


Then suddenly in 1809 Russia annexed Finland from the Swedish Crown, maintaining influence until the Russian Revolution when Finland took the opportunity to become a sovereign nation in 1917. Through the Great Wars and the rest of the last century, Tornedalen evolved under the auspices of neighboring nation states, at once being torn apart and maintaining a quiet unity across the water, probably aided by the fact that the river becomes lined with ice roads from bank to bank for six months of the year when ice dominates its surface.
My experience in this region cannot be summarized easily, and the reflections will last a lifetime. I was confronted with fragments of nature, myself, and human society around every corner. The fundamental state of this river — a clean, damfree, fishfull, peaceful boundary water — is an uncommon circumstance, and it hosts the largest salmon run in western Europe. It is truly a sanctuary for life. 
After I finished skiing, I taught in the Pajala school, midway along the river’s course, grades 4-9, thanks to Kjell who works there. When speaking with the students, telling them about the dire situation along the Ganges River and its tributaries in Nepal, I asked them to consider what it would be like if the Swedish city upstream, Kiruna, was home to 10,000,000 people instead of 20,000 and had no proper sewage treatment. This gained some exasperated reactions, especially when I showed them an aerial view of Varanasi and one of the sewage drains into the Ganges. But in that moment it occurred to me that it doesn’t take 10,000,000 to pollute a river. Kiruna’s 20,000 people could make Torne’s waters ripe with harmful bacteria and protozoa, at least enough to make the water not potable, while now it is. 
A thorough and regulated mode of processing sewage and strict regulations for pollution and on damming can maintain the abundance of life in a river and keep it pure enough to drink right out of the flow. For many of the Swedish born students in Pajala, the reality of Torne River’s purity was an unimpressive fact. But in the school are many refugees, and the students from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan could not believe the bounty of fresh water when they arrived. 
A river is not unlike a person; if confined by artificial boundaries, literal like prison bars or figurative like debt, one is stifled even to a tragic degree; if overwhelmed with toxins — sugar, alcohol, drugs, chemicals — the body will unravel dispelling potential for life, especially without modern medical convenience. If one attains the nebulous yet rich heart of freedom, there is opportunity to flourish and to carry others in the wake. I am not trying to say that a dirty river cannot be free, or for that matter a person who takes drugs or is in prison cannot be free, but that perhaps we can form an ideology that places the very land, water, and resources that sustain us in a position of power, with rights, as a gift to ourselves.


Is not freedom the heart of worldly attainment, the foundational goal of so many of our collective ideologies? Is freedom just for us, or can a river be free, a forest, a mountain? Freedom is not achieved alone, but as part of a web of life. Can we work our way in a global world to at once engage our hunger for technology and imbue ourselves with morals embedded in nature, imbue the landscape with its own rights and economy? In a world fissuring at the folds of religion and polarized by nationalism, there is one place that human spirit lies which is common to all of us, in nature.
These journeys are showing me how to rewild myself, my vocabulary, my interactions; how to unlearn the manicured social contracts, lawns of the imagination, that I have with the earth in order to see with fresh eyes that there are bountiful opportunities for us humans to reconnect with one another and our shared landscapes. It’s a matter of revaluing “sense not cents” and thinking like a river, like a bed of soil, to think of gardeners as the aristocracy of connectedness, those who understand the relationships that enable life.
I’ve recognized something about my project that is fitting to close this letter. In many ways I am a pilgrim, searching for everything and nothing, partial only to the path of the river and nature, and the people who happen into my life as a result. I am not trying to unearth anything in particular, to inform a literal map of any area, but rather I will my conscious effort into a rivercentric perambulation that is trying to get at the poetry of land that Barry Lopez writes about, at the heart of nature, that strives so intently to pursue a natural flow, a force among forces. 
As I move about, letting the ineffability of the landscape and other people fill this time, I cannot express the gratitude I feel for the opportunity. Thank you.
From the flow,

Galen

Take it Planetary

It was clear and striking
The day
It was light

Ready to break my iris

To give me clarity
That was the day
Then overcome

By the news

My hands began to shake
The skin of my forearms,

Darkened by the Indian sun,

Prickled like cactus
The news
It stopped the day

For a moment
And as we floated

The river and I

Were exposed to a new era

Suddenly

As inevitable as the sea
The news

It was disbelief

Trumpeted

By my ignorance

Like a sound cannon

Shrieking silently
The news

It was as though

The river turned

To flow uphill
The news

It was clear and striking

You probably know what news I am talking about. On my last day with GangesSUP, approaching Kanpur, an industrial and largely muslim city, Donald Trump became president elect of the United States.
The Ganges River, from Haridwar to Kanpur, is a seam that draws an ever wandering squiggle through North India’s agricultural plane. It is a river jaded with sugarcane fields greening the water by the banks, punctuated by hordes of water buffalo like smug spa-goers, soaking in the river’s coolness. It is a river that moves through the land as steadily as the farmers chopping and gathering food for their animals and for themselves. 
It is a river that meanders as it pleases with floodplains kilometers wide. Many villages are too accustomed to forced displacement by the floods. Along the banks, one will hear thuds and cracks then the following waves as considerable sections of earth plummet into the current, constant reminders that the river could arrive at one’s doorstep in the not-so-far future. 
My desire to remain focused on the river was momentarily obliterated last week. The country whose passport brought me halfway around the globe elected a man who I had opposed as a leader down to my last hangnail, who has certain values that are to me the antithesis of my dream for the USA: 
I dream of freedom and acceptance, of respect, sustainability, and equality. 

I dream of a place where people can be empowered together to live a good life. 

I dream of a place where culture is enriched by the magnificence of nature. 

I dream of a place where everyone is able to dream as I dream. 
Call me naive, ignorant, but the strands of patriotism and hope for the United States that I was indoctrinated with as a child still hold some sway. My nationalism, an association that has changed so much over my short life, my satisfaction to be American, more precisely USAn, is attached to that dream.
 As Donald Trump’s electoral votes accumulated, I began to wonder if the country is worthy of its very name: the United States. Perhaps the “States” are United, but what of the people?
I am afraid my dream has no flag right now. 

Color is as welcome

As maple sugar in the springtime
Colors are brilliant
Colors are soul
Colors are —


Just before leaving Delhi for the Ganga, I met Jonathan and Erika Du Ela, other travellers from the USA. Jonathan is from a Creole family rooted in New Orleans, but he was raised in South Central Los Angeles where his family has ties to the Black Panthers. Erika’s family is Mexican and living in the San Fernando Valley. Both are artists working to understand their ideas and philosophy about race and place, reaching for a planetary perspective in their journies. We shared a lengthy conversation about ourselves and our work.
The heart of the talk approached whiteness, whiteness as a construction, as a force of power and oppression, whiteness as a concept.
I have struggled to come to terms with what a white identity represents, in my case white and male. Here in India so often I have experienced the attitude that white is right. White is glorified to an extent that people wear fairness creams. People want to take pictures with me on the street and they stare at me when I go out. I’ve heard many men here express admiration of Trump–a rich white man, a man who could help relieve India’s struggles against Pakistan, India’s muslim neighbor, by ceasing to give them aid. 
In my current context here, I cannot forget that whiteness is also associated with the slave owning whites of the confederacy, treaty breaking exceptionalists disregarding Native land claims and environmental treaties in pursuit of wealth, a supremacist, oppressive ruling class. That is not all whiteness is of course, but it is essential that we acknowledge these views, all of us, that in the face of conflict and extremism we remember empathy.
Trump’s anti establishment rhetoric and his blunt courage as a speaker resonate with many Indians and evidently many Americans. India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows similar tendencies. Sometimes called a Hindu supremacist, other times praised highly as a visionary leader, Modi appealed to a Hindu society feeling disenchanted with the long standing norms of Indian politics and a status quo threatened by India’s growing muslim population.
Let’s not shy away from the fact that muslims are dispersing across the globe in vast numbers now from the Middle East and North Africa. They are facing fearful and even hostile environments as they migrate. The changing demography of countries is a very real concern; I saw it myself in Northern Sweden in a small community transformed by incoming Afghani families. As my grandmother Irene Hecht, Tita to me, writes: “Because we have not lived through this for over 1,000 years, we are stunned by its effects. But the globe saw it before – Europe with the Germanic invasions, is one example, which stretched on for about 500 years. Today we need to see the phenomenon of population movements in the planetary context. We cannot settle this problem on the national level.”

That quote is from Tita’s reflections on the election, which she sent to me a few days ago. In her writings, she expressed a thought that has a scope which is comforting in uncomfortable times, that humanity is experiencing a great revolution. Having passed the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, we are now in the “Planetary Revolution” and norms such as the Nation State are due for examination and transformation.
In order to avoid a pessimistic stupor, her perspective is one that I can hold onto as a guiding light. She writes:
“Briefly, how do I see the Trump election? I see it as a self-inflicted kick-in-the pants. I dare not predict how we will use the jolt. Our greatest hope is Trump’s pragmatism. His words are wild, but his actions can be level-headed, at least from his perspective. There is the danger he may push us backward rather than forward.” 

“Taking the optimistic approach my hope is that we will be thoroughly jarred and that by the next election we will find some serious answers that speak to the realities of our future. We first need to identify where we stand in the Planetary Revolution. Then we can look for leadership that is capable of moving beyond the Industrial Age into the new Planetary existence.”
I feel the weight of our inevitable and uncertain trajectory into that future. From Walter Benjamin: 
“ A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”                                           
May we can call upon lessons of history, and remind ourselves of the value of relationships we have with the Earth and one another. Let us consider the responsibility we have for that storm blowing in from paradise, let us try our best to keep the metaphor a metaphor. 
Planetary consciousness is not a new concept. We have plenty of cultures to look to for guidance — land based peoples through time have come up with many cosmologies based on the environment. Many of these cosmologies are with us today. One that is close to my heart is John Wesley Powell’s notions of using watershed boundaries, ecoLogical boundaries to govern ourselves and our spaces. Another one knocked right on my noggin this morning as I read an essay by Nick Jenei, a close friend and Planetary philosopher at heart. He wrote the piece nearly a decade ago when he was on his Watson Fellowship not far from where I am now: 
“I have been hiking alone for hours when my guide Jam Yang, a native Tibetan and former Buddhist monk, joins me on the trail. Since I don’t have the physical ability to simultaneously walk and talk at that altitude, I am eager to stop and chat while catching up on my oxygen. I am also interested in learning more about the significance of the Kora (the Tibetan word for a religious circumambulation) and ask Jam Yang if he can tell me more about why Tibetans walk around mountains. His answer is one of the most profound yet simple insights into the crisis facing humanity I have ever heard articulated: ‘The Kora is a way of honoring a relationship, honoring our relationship with the mountain.’”

“Honoring a relationship. These three words not only hold the key to understanding the tension between humans and the environment, they also illuminate a clear path toward a more harmonious relationship with our world. ‘The pilgrims on this mountain understand the infinitely complex relationships that sustain them,’ continues Jam Yang. ‘They understand their place in the greater system; they understand their relationship to Kailash.’ Because of their sensitivity to this symbiosis, these pilgrims are not trying to conquer the mountain, they are not trying to conquer the environment — they are trying to honor a relationship.”
With communications today, the planet is a web of connection. Just think about what you and I are doing: I wrote this at a table in Allahabad and posted it… you can read this in an instant nearly anywhere there is “connectivity.” If we can usher into ourselves, our homes, our families a practice of considering these relationships, we can get onto a positive track towards planetary life. If we can learn from the election that petty media is not so petty, that twitter isn’t light as a feather, then we can develop what tita calls an “etiquette” for using this powerful young tool, the internet, so that we don’t become entangled. 
The other day on the river, I asked my friend Devang, a Gujarati, if he believed in Hindu mythology. “No,” he said, “I believe in nature.” 
That’s beautiful, and practical I thought to myself. No drudgery through scripture about someone else’s mystical journey, just find it anywhere. We are all a part of nature, it’s 100% inclusive. That’s great. So we have some common ground still. I want to focus that. 

When I grow up
I will build a house 
And on one wall I will install a mirror
A mirror that captures all the light of the world
And reflects me in everything
And reflects everything in me
So everyday when I wake
I can look into the world

see just how we all fit in

Think like a planet

Fireworks & Toilet College

Thick with boom and bang

Fireworks paint the town

Light

Marigolds dance in storefronts

Children shout 

As one chucks his little ball of paper

Which erupts in a dazzling flash

The center of the universe
The vigor peels shyness

From the passerby

Surprised by foreigners

Doing just as the kids do

The atmosphere filled with smoke

Prayers of the town floating up

Incense of black powder

An offering

For a good year to come


I arrived in India as the rain ended. The river was outstepping its banks, washing beligerantly through villages, bathing the feet of enormous statues of Shiva, sweeping over the ghats of Varanasi and into the city streets. Now the clouds are evaporated, the moisture of the air lingers as vapor and fog, turning the afternoon sun blood red, the rice paddies are picked and cleared, the sugarcane is in harvest, and the next planting begins soon, potatoes and tomatoes, radishes and herbs, things no longer at risk of being washed away in the floods.
Diwali is a celebration in cultures all around South Asia and the Pacific, recognized broadly by Hindus as well as Jains, Sikhs, and some sects of Buddhism. It is the festival of light, the festival for Lakshmi the Hindu goddess of success and wealth. Diwali is celebrated according to the Bikram Sambat calendar, the calendar that Hindus follow, on the darkest moon of the month of Karitka.
To celebrate here, people clean house, place garlands of marigolds all over, give gifts to family and friends, buy new clothes, eat a feast, and in the evening steps and roofs are lined with candles and cities and villages alight with fireworks. All through the day fireworks are blown off, but when night falls they are blown by the heap, crescendoing to a heavy roar, continuing in a steady chorus all through the night.


We got off the river the day before Diwali in the small town of Narora, host to a nuclear power plant and a barrage. Not a glorious village, this place was full of working people with a massive military complex that looked trim, proper and quiet as a 1950s middle America suburban oasis. Only outside the gates did I feel comfortable again, like I was in India. 
The first night in Narora we went out ravaged with hunger for dinner after a long day on the river. Finding no promising restaurants, we walked through a market brimming with Diwali goods, candles, posters, nic-nacs. Sweetshops selling Mitai had burst from their storefronts, and piles of sugary lumps, balls, and bricks were stacked under tents and sat in vats of sugar water. A firework mall had been erected in the center of town, and everyone seemed eager and happy. Finally we found the foodcarts and chowed–momos (like sumplings), masala omelets, aloo tiki (fried potato mash with chickpeas and sauce), and the ubiquitous Indo-Chinese Chowmein.


This festive time was a rest time for us to get off the river, get clean and enjoy good food. It also gave me time to reflect on the space upriver….
Back in Devprayag

We walked across a suspension footbridge 

crowded with cows

We walked past shopkeepers and school kids

All looking at us, alienlike in our riverwear
We walked down and down the steps

Painted red and lined with Ram Ram

Small altars

Incense air

Down to the confluence

Where the Ganges begins
All around

People, curious people

Crowded around and wanted to talk

We greeted them and smiled

Orange-robed Saddhus meditated
Bathers in the river moved aside

As we walked to waters edge

Ready to launch into the wild river

Rolling with waves and rapids
BOOOOOOOOSH
Everyone flinched

The sound deafening as

The seam of my board 

Burst open
The sinking
Downtrodden,

I watched the others

Paddle off into the rapids

Bummed with the burden

Of material things
Then a man sitting by the water

Grinned wide at me

And I grinned 

And walked the bank downriver



In the morning before our launch onto the Ganges, Kumaran M “Geopaddler” arrived to our hotel. Kumaran is a man in his 30s with a bright moonslice smile, a contagious high pitched laugh, a friendly youthful nature, and a magnetic affinity for stand up paddleboarding. He also carries a thermos of chai onto the river everyday which has gained him many friends among us. 


He showed up totally unprepared for whitewater paddling; no helmet, not a proper whitewater lifejacket, no wetsuit, none of that. But he was ready and undeterred. 
Kumaran is a geologist for oil and gas exploration. The company was once based in Chennai, his home city in Tamil Nadu near Sri Lanka in South India. Cairn moved to Gurgaon a few years back, an offshoot of Delhi, so now Kumaran weekly commutes back and forth North to South India between work and family. When he is home in Chennai, he volunteers his time to run a program called Bay of Life that takes kids out surfing and paddleboarding to learn about the local environment from fishermen and others who know the area deeply.
Often since we’ve gotten on the river I’ve seen Kumaran try and teach people how to paddle–a kid in a local village, the driver of our support car. This generosity of spirit showed early when he offered to let me use his board for many parts of the whitewater stretch after mine blew.
The whitewater was incredible fun. Imagine big, clean, green raging rapids in deep water through a gorge dug right out of the entrance to the himalayas. The gorge is an immense breadth of forest and the old pilgrimage routes snake along above the river. The place feels young, not as raw as the mountains above, but very lively. One morning a fisherman naked as the day he was born was casting his net right from our camp, tens of others were across the water on the other bank. The rush of water had lulled us all through the night as we slept under an open sky.


We were generously supported by Anvesh Singh Tapa, a NOLS instructor and founder of Expeditions India, an up-and-coming river outfitter based in Rishikesh. The three days on the river with these folks showed the power of recreation to shape people’s lives and the river’s. 
River guides live on and see rivers through good, bad, and ugly. Their love of the water and the earth around it is crafted by experience and time and is a tremendous force in keeping rivers all over the world healthy, from the Chama in New Mexico to the Salween in China. 
Anvesh runs a remarkable and responsible company, supporting others who wish to steward the river, keep the banks and waters clean, and make recreation possible for the future. Having run the Ganges and other nearby rivers constantly for 20 years, he knows their character and the changes they’ve confronted. He mentioned that the Ganges has changed dramatically since the Tehri Dam was erected in the early 2000s. This year was the first that the reservoir on the Alakananda River is full, so he has seen more changes, including a dry riverbed earlier in the season. The dramatic effect on the river and on the wildlife is unquestionable. 
Anvesh’s role in our journey and in the river community is invaluable. It is his knowledge and other people with such intimate sensibilities of the place and its patterns that could help those in power make responsible, informed decisions. We need more presence like his.
Hard to imagine here

Where the water is emerald

Magnificent as the sky

What is to come

Rushing by a sea of yellow and red robes, the Ganga, unwavering in its immensity, flows by crowds singing out to her, praising the river for all she gives, united in sound drawn out by the expanse of water passing the bottom of the ghat. Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh is not just religious, it is sensational.


Just before five o’clock every evening, hoards of people pack the small road separating the Ashram from the riverbank. Monks and young boys who study at Parmarth Niketan are closely flanked by tourists who have come to learn yoga, Indian women and men dressed well for an evening out, school and tour groups, maybe five hundred people, look onto the spectacle, in awe of Ma Ganga, the turquoise ray of water passing before the red hazy horizon.
Downriver on the right bank funeral pyres can be seen burning in the dusk, rafts of people wearing bright helmets paddle to land at a beach, happy after a day on the water, music and chanting from other ashrams echo through the crisp air, himalayan foothills folding into the city below. Ram Jhula, one of Rishikesh’s famous footbridges, is a ways upstream, cows lounging amidst the rush of traffic on the road behind the Aarti. The Ashram’s camera boy stands on a cement platform raised on pilings in the river, adding to the grandiosity and subtle oddity of the scene. 


This is the Aarti going on as it does every evening, a special ceremony just for the river designed by the Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji Maharaj, the holy man, a sort of saint, who is the president of Parmarth Niketan. 

We had the opportunity to interview Pujya Swami as well as Swamini Sadhvi Saraswati Mishra, a holy woman who also lives at the ashram. The Swami limped into our interview, his foot having been damaged recently at an event at the Tehri Reservoir. 
The Swami has an explosion of brown frizzy hair and a beard, a curly mane, and he wore orange robes. He spoke in a very soft and gentle voice and answered just a few of our questions about the role of faith along the ganges. We wanted to know the real work, not just symbolic work, that faith groups are doing to steward the waters in India.


Basically he said that Hindu people must take care of the river, and the ashram has started a Toilet College to train professionals to work in communities to develop better sanitation. He also noted that the ashram is an important member of GIWA, the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, WASH meaning, Water Sanitation and Hygiene… yes an acronym inside an acronym. GIWA does work to provide sanitation services and facilities the world over. 
The short chat was a good prologue to the interview with the Swamini, an American woman who has taken on a powerful role as a Hindu leader. She explained to us that you can’t just say to people that they shouldn’t pollute the river and expect results. She explained that telling people to treat the river as their temple is much more effective. “You don’t defecate or throw garbage in your temple, right?” She asked. Her potent messaging was clear that India is in a time of transition, that these sensibilities about ecological stewardship are transforming from what they were here ages ago to an age of fast and furious economies, plastic, and a booming population. 

The river

It has only the logic of least resistance

This meandering 

It follows no pattern I can discern

But snow to sea

And in between

Flat flat flat

Bend and break

Sugarcane

Rice

Villages

Cities and people

Always becoming water

And…

Quarterly Letter 1


The Watson Foundation requires me to share a letter reflecting on my experiences every three months. While I work on my next entry, I want to share this with you all.

My Dear Watson,
I am currently sitting in room at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. I’ve had a bit of a fever this morning, but I am feeling better. Odd and beautiful chanting is the soundtrack today, along with a rock drill next door.
First, I want to quickly cover where I have been to date: 
–I began on a flight to Europe after failing to find a sailboat to take me across the Atlantic. On the way I flew with Icelandair knowing that I could make a small stopover there to see that fascinating North Atlantic Island. I hitchhiked around the southern end of Iceland and visited the Skafta River. It’s the only place I had ever been where one can stick their head right in a river 100 yards across and drink. 
–From there I routed briefly to London because I was connected to an Indian woman and two men there planning to paddle down the Ganges River, more on that later. 
–After London I headed to the first river in my itinerary, the Torne River. The shortest visit on my main itinerary, I look back on the Torne as a magical place, a well managed international watershed, and the second very big river pristine enough to drink right over the gunwale of the canoe. I stayed with a wilderness guide who took me foraging for mushrooms and berries, fishing on the river. He and his Afghani apprentice Mohammed were great companions.
–I left the arctic circle (just before Autumn snow on August 23) for Stockholm where I attended World Water Week, a major gathering of governments, civil society, and businesses to discuss global water challenges. 

–W.W.W. was a wonderful transition into India where I am now and have been for nearly two months.
Moving about like I am is a rhythm that is challenging to maintain. I like to do practical things, building, farming, cooking, things that often require rootedness, but when I am travelling along the river, it is hard to participate in such work. So as I move, I write. I write at once because I love to craft language and because it makes my mind–a surprising soup of thoughts, feelings, intellect, reaction–into something I can look at, interpret, and refine. I like that, it keeps me running smoothly.
In Europe I wrote about the power of Western ways and sensibilities, the edges of rationalism and western institutional technology against the whim and way of nature. There is a paradox in rationalism a bit like entropy and order, the most civilized societies can have the most chaotic, thoughtless reactions, like Trump in the states now, or the Dakota Access Pipeline situation coupled with the Bundy case… what are we thinking people? (nice piece here… https://transformativespaces.org/2016/10/27/how-to-talk-about-nodapl-a-native-perspective/)
In Sweden, at 67 degrees North on the beautiful, dam free Torne River, life is simple and good but challenging in the elements. Last year, just when the summer light faded, the 250 person community of Junosuando, where I spent most of my time up north, grew by 60 people, refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. The public schools doubled enrollment with the influx. This wave of people reminded me that rivers are not always made of water, it made me consider how migrating people cause shifting burdens on the land and water and one another’s communities.
After Junosuando I got to learn and write about international climate politics, specifically concerning water and sanitation at World Water Week. I made it a point to attend the lectures on India and I learned about the current buzz to relieve this country of open defecation, to clean the overburdened rivers here. With the policies in place, the struggle is for implementation.
Now here, on the ground and the water, I understand India’s challenges in a new light. As I mentioned, I found a group with plans to paddle the length of the Ganges. We have a smattering of Indians on the trip representing a small sliver of the cultural landscape here, a Gujarati, a Tamil, and a Delhi urbanite. It is a wonder that India is a democratic and unified state to any extent, and how things work here would take a few reincarnations to understand, but I am trying none the less.
Paddling the river is not straightforward, and that is why I chose to travel with a group; it is massively polluted and dangerous along many lines. The river supports 500 million people, and it passes through highly populated areas, including two of India’s poorest states. Planning was a lengthy process, and I spent a few weeks in Delhi meeting with all sorts of people to link with organizations, ashrams, bureaucracies, fellow adventurers to learn about the river and make arrangements along the way.
Three weeks ago we started in the headwaters at Gangotri Glacier, and now we are into the plains (It’s a week after Rishikesh as I write now), passing sugarcane plantations for miles and miles, makeshift distilleries, river funerals, temples, barrages, and water buffalo herds, meeting agricultural communities of many sorts.
Just before leaving for this year I read a book called The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane. In the book he writes about learning by passing through, a way of knowing as a nomad. More than anything that is how I feel now, my eyes are open and keen, I am trying to absorb all I can, traveling downstream. I dream of Huck Finn, the namesake of my paddleboard.
I have an overwhelming sensation of tinyness and insignificance here in India, and I am listening and learning to figure out what we are all part of in the world.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to truly live and feel it.
Galen

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