I breezed into my horse stall last evening, swinging a pair of buckets. I was singing, as I recall feeling ok in general--when the tip of my shoe caught under a plank, partially buried in the ground. Most of me flew forward. The foot-part of me stayed put. It's rude, really, how hard the earth is. I slammed face-first into ground. It knocked the wind clean out me, spitting dust and hay. A feeling of outrage, at the pain and at crashing down in such an abrupt fashion. Other than a pair of bloody knees and a pulled muscle or two, no damage done, except to my dignity. Obstacles. Ugh. They catch us off guard. They get in our way. They sure can get our attention.
A board is small, as obstacles go, and for most people avoidable--but life has so many big ones, ones we can’t avoid. Some so large that they seem insurmountable. Many of us have several at one time. Money issues. Health. Anxiety. Depression. Family problems. Loss. Grief. Loneliness. Fear. Anger. Addictions. Kids, parents, pets that need us, and not enough time, knowledge, resources or skills to address all the holes that need filling. The list is endless. And once one obstacle is conquered, another one pops up, just like those clown punching bags.
Shyness is a stumbling block I've had forever. (As a kid I used to hide in the coat closet when visitors came.) Even today, staring down the barrel at 59 years-- the coziness of being snuggled behind all those winter coats still appeals to me way more than than trying to make small talk at a party. But there’s something in all of us, pushing us to conquer, like flowers pushing through sidewalk cracks, fish beating against a dam, environmentalists hammering away against slow-moving bureaucracy.
Steph Wald is one of the many stream-loving heroes I've met, sporting a ponytail and green waders instead of a cape. As Watershed Projects Manager of Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, Steph's life work is all about removing obstacles for anadromous fish like steelhead and salmon. Ironically, she could probably cast a fly-rod from her office door and snag one of the "ten largest obstacles" in the Arroyo Grande watershed.
Steph sloshes hip-deep through the current, peering into the depths, reading the stream-bottom like a book. “See that change of gravel color? See where the silt is disturbed? Those are signs of fish." I plunge along behind her in borrowed waders, dazzled by the steady stream of science words which I can’t remember. “Water is everything,” Steph says. That much I remember, because she repeats it several times. Our upstream slosh concludes at the big obstacle: (photo above) A concrete weir, no longer critical to the water gauge operation, effectively blocks all young steelhead from from going beyond this point.
Due to a blizzard of rules and regulations, the removal of the obstacle has been in the Arroyo Grande Creek Watershed Plan since 2009. Dozens of bullet-points in the document start with words like "studying, securing, conducting, establishing, providing, assisting, overseeing, scheduling"--including a two year observation and and relocation plan for red-legged frogs! All this--before any "removing" can begin. I don't say this outloud, but honestly, I'm thinking: a few college kids with sledge hammers and some beer could have this down in a weekend. Then the fish and red-legged frogs could all get on with their business!
However--I'm neither a scientist nor a bureaucrat, which is a good thing, because everything would be in chaos, with no accountability or proper measurements of progress. I don't know how things like this work. When I express my dismay over the seeming lack of progress, Steph hauls out a huge binder, The 100 Year Plan for all the problems in this watershed to be solved. ONE HUNDRED YEARS?? I’ll be a fossil by then! "Yes--but it took at least a hundred years to make this mess," Steph reminds me.
I sit down to read, and listen to Steph describe all the projects in the works--and see so many good things happening, in large part due to Steph, her staff, and other like-minded organizations battling environmental, legal and buerocratic obstacles. They educate children with their "Trout in the Classroom" program. They teach about water conservation at the schools with the DROP program. They've just begun a program to protect the famous Pismo Clams. Their staff and volunteers are passionate about the health and vitality of the rivers and streams along the Central California Coast--their feet in waders, their minds on education and eyes on the future.
"The work ahead is not of one lifetime," Steph explains--"but of many lifetimes." Which means she and her colleagues are working for the benefit of people and wildlife not even born yet. And that humility and foresightedness is what makes them all heroes to me. If you want to join their efforts, check out their website at http://www.centralcoastsalmon.com
I don't have any great ideas for obstacle removal -- but I did just read a wonderful book: Mark Epstein, MD, in his recent book, "Advice Not Given" combines decades of Buddhist wisdom with psychiatrist's skill. "What I try to convey to my patients is that they can meet the challenges life throws at them by changing the way they relate to them. The goal is to meet the challenges with equanimity, not to make them go away."
The sub-title of Epstein's book (Advice to Getting Over Yourself) makes me laugh. Ultimately, "ourselves" are probably the biggest obstacles we'll ever have to get over. "Getting over myself" is a work in progress, but a worthy one. It might even lure me out of my shyness closet. As for stumbling over perfectly visible boards in my path--I guess there's a lesson there as well. Each time I inhale this morning, a sharp pain in my rib reminds me: some obstacles can actually be avoided by paying a little attention.
All day a song has been playing in my head. This rendition of Johnny Nash’s song, performed by Jimmy Cliff, is my favorite. Guaranteed to make you feel at least 10% cheerier--maybe even enough to consider tackling an obstacle of your own.
"I Can See Clearly Now" - Johnny Nash
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.