Going on an Adventure

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“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. I should think so – in these parts!  We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!  Make you late for dinner.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Adventure

There are many more rivers to explore and many miles to wander in this beautiful world.  We have not finished our river journeys. There is Julius Caesar’s Rubicon, the Mekong River, one of the great rivers of SE Asia, and the legendary Amazon River that carries more water than any other river in the world.

For now, I am taking a couple of weeks to share an adventure with my husband and son.   I am uncertain whether I will be able to access the internet on a regular basis, even though I am equipped with a new iPhone that I know very little about.  I confess that I have not attained the level of proficiency to access WordPress.  I am going to use this time to stretch my knowledge of technology.

We are all on a remarkable adventure, we call life.  Over the past months, I have come to realize that we may be on opposite sides of the world, yet we are travelling the same path.

Safe travels….and remember….

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Crossing the Delaware

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“Washington’s task was to transform the improbable into the inevitable.” 
Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington

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George Washington once said, “The turning points of lives are not the great moments. The real crises are often concealed in occurrences so trivial in appearance that they pass unobserved.” 

Christmas 1776, while others gathered around the hearth to celebrate an uneasy yuletide, George Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the frigid Delaware River the night of December 25 – 26. It was a decisive act that carried danger, risk and the uncertainty of outcome. The situation was bleak.  To that point, The Continental Army had lost most of the battles. Spirits were down, and many had deserted, their initial passion for independence replaced with hopeless resignation.   5,000 men remained, yet half of these were ill and unfit for duty.  Wrapped in rags, many did not have the shoes to protect them against the cold winter.

Crossing the Delaware was the single event, the catalyst that transformed the momentum of the Revolution. Wet, cold, and three hours behind, the Continental Army surprised the Hessians, professional mercenaries sent by King George III to wipe out the seemingly innocuous American rebellion.    With the victory, strength and courage returned.  In the immortal words of George Washington, – “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph!”  The moment was captured in an 1851 oil-on-canvas painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, by German American Artist Emanuel Leutze.

The Delaware River, from its primary and secondary source in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, flows 674 kilometres into Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its watershed drains an area of 36,568 square kilometres.  Millions of people depend upon the waters of the Delaware River for drinking water.  The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a protected area of 70,000 acres that is situated in the middle section of the Delaware River in New Jersey, came into being out of environmental opposition to a controversial plan to build a dam.

Every voice makes a difference.

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” 
George Washington

To the River Charles

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Shoreline

Today, I came across a poem by one of my favourite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that spoke of his feelings for the Charles River, which is located in the state of Massachusetts. From its source in Hopkinton, it flows 129 kilometres through cities and towns in the eastern part of the state until reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Boston.  Despite its diminutive length, the Charles River has a relatively large drainage area; its watershed contains over 8,000 acres of protected wetlands.  Considering that Brandeis University, Harvard University, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sprung up along its shores, perhaps there is something in the water that invigorates the mind.

To the River Charles

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

River! that in silence windest
Through the meadows, bright and free,
Till at length thy rest thou findest
In the bosom of the sea!
Four long years of mingled feeling,
Half in rest, and half in strife,
I have seen thy waters stealing
Onward, like the stream of life.
Thou hast taught me, Silent River!
Many a lesson, deep and long;
Thou hast been a generous giver;
I can give thee but a song.
Oft in sadness and in illness,
I have watched thy current glide,
Till the beauty of its stillness
Overflowed me, like a tide.
And in better hours and brighter,
When I saw thy waters gleam,
I have felt my heart beat lighter,
And leap onward with thy stream.
Not for this alone I love thee,
Nor because thy waves of blue
From celestial seas above thee
Take their own celestial hue.
Where yon shadowy woodlands hide thee,
And thy waters disappear,
Friends I love have dwelt beside thee,
And have made thy margin dear.
More than this;–thy name reminds me
Of three friends, all true and tried;
And that name, like magic, binds me
Closer, closer to thy side.
Friends my soul with joy remembers!
How like quivering flames they start,
When I fan the living embers
On the hearth-stone of my heart!
‘T is for this, thou Silent River!
That my spirit leans to thee;
Thou hast been a generous giver,
Take this idle song from me. 

The Mighty Mississippi

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“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit. The Mississippi Valley is as reposeful as a dreamland, nothing worldly about it…nothing to hang a fret or a worry upon.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

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An “Admiral’s Map” in the Royal Library at Madrid, Spain, thought to have been engraved in 1507,  names a mouth of a river “The River of Palms.”   This seemingly immaterial detail implies that Christopher Columbus may have been the first European to see the mighty Mississippi. Since this remains unconfirmed, the acclaim goes to a Spanish conquistador, Hernando de Soto, who documented his first view of the Mississippi from the vantage point just below present-day Memphis, Tennessee.

Hernando de Soto, was incredibly rich, having shared in the Inca treasure along with others who joined Francisco Pizarro in the 1530’s.  He was convinced, however, that there was more gold, glory and the discovery of the fabled sea passage to China waiting for him in the unexplored territories. He organised the biggest of the early Spanish exploratory expeditions that ranged across the south-eastern quadrant of the United States.   The journey was fraught with danger and extreme hardship.  In 1541, the expedition reached the Mississippi River.  Hernando de Soto’s elation was short-lived for in May 1542, he died of fever.   The name he had given his beloved river was Río del Espíritu Santo (River of the Holy Spirit).

The name “Mississippi” came from the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) Misi-ziibi name for Great River. And it lives up to its name. The Mississippi River, divided into Upper, Middle and Lower, is the largest river system in all of North America traveling more that 3,734 kilometres, beginning at its source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Its river basin is 2,981,076 square kilometres; its watershed drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that lay between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years, the Mississippi has been transferred between nations through various treaties and purchases.  Even so, it flows as it did for the First Nation peoples that lived along its banks long before the arrival of Europeans.

“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…”
Mark Twain, In Eruption

The Man Who Named Canada

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We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 
 Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Water

Anyone who studies Canadian history will know the name Jacques Cartier.

Jacques Cartier was a Breton who was known for his expertise in navigation and cartography.  He had a grand aspiration to find the legendary North-West passage, the sea route around North American that would enable Europeans to trade directly with China.   His persuasive skills convinced King Francis I of France to agree to his ambitious plan.  In April 1534, Jacques Cartier left the port of St. Malo, his hometown, on what was the first of three voyages.   Twenty days later, he sighted Newfoundland, which was the beginning of his detailed exploration of the coastline of what is now known as the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.

The next year, on the second voyage Jacque Cartier entered the river on August 10, the feast of St. Lawrence. He named it, fleuve Saint-Laurent.  To the Tuscarora nation the river was Kahnawáʼkye; and to the Mohawk nation it was Kaniatarowanenneh, names that signified “big waterway.”  The St. Lawrence River is 1,197 kilometres in length with a basin of 1,344,200 square kilometres. It is the outflow for the entire Great Lakes system, which holds approximately 20% of the world’s fresh water.  The river’s extensive coastal wetlands provide a paradise for wildlife.

Jacque Cartier may not have found the North-West passage, but his carefully planned and mapped exploration gave a clear understanding of the land complexities of eastern Canada.  He gave names to Quebec City, Montreal and the Lachine Rapids.  And he named the land “The Country of Canadas,” originating from a First Nations word kanata for “village.”

“Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.”
Pierre Trudeau

Into Africa

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“We are made for loving. If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.” 
 Desmond Tutu

Water

I always smile when I read stories of explorers and their remarkable discoveries that changed the way we look at our world.  It seems that humanity judges progress by time, location and perspective. Before the explorers came, the rivers flowed and those who lived within their valleys had already discovered them.

In 1483, the Portuguese explorer, Diogo Cão, a renowned navigator in the Age of Discovery, discovered the Congo River, when he came upon a vast open water expanse that measured eleven kilometres across.  A man standing on a ship on one side of the river could barely see the slender blue strip of coastline in the far distance.

Diogo Cão did not recognize this waterway as a river; rather, he believed that he had come upon a strait that would lead him directly to the legendary kingdom of Prester John, a Christian patriarch and king alleged to rule over a Christian nation lost among the pagans.  According to the medieval legends, Prester John was a direct descendant of one of the Three Magi who visited Bethlehem, at Christmas.  Whoever found Prester John would see a kingdom that boasted the “Gates of Alexander” and the “Fountain of Youth.”

The Congo River is the world’s deepest river with gauged depths in excess of 220 m or 720 feet; it is the 9th longest river at 4,700 kilometres.  It is the 3rd largest river in the world by volume of water discharged ranging from 23,000 – 75,000 cubic metres/second for an average of 41,000 cubic metres/second.  It has the second largest drainage system in the world, covering approximately 3.8 million km2. The river and its tributaries run through the Congo Rainforest which enjoys a rich abundance of species, its size second only to the Amazon Rainforest in South America.

Diogo Cão found a greater treasure than the kingdom of Prester John.   Its value is beyond measure.

“When the last tree is cut and the last fish killed, the last river poisoned, then you will see that you can’t eat money.”
John May, The Greenpeace Story