If you follow me on Instagram or have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I post a lot of river photos. I live in Northern California near a pristine, beautiful, healing river that carries rushing liquid snow melt through an epic granite canyon down from the High Sierra. I didn’t even know it existed when I moved here 8 years ago, but it quickly became my very favorite thing about this place.
Am I being annoyingly vague about my location? I am, though I may reward those who read this post thoroughly by hiding that valuable bit of information within one of the following paragraphs ;-)
I don't want to be annoyingly vague but, you see, the posting of information about this river has become a point of contention in my community. For everyone who sees a photo I post and feels transported to a place of ease and renewal that they never actually get to feel in real life because there’s no nature like this anywhere around them, there’s a person in my town cursing me for sharing “their” river.
My feeling is that it’s insane to want to keep this kind of beauty and the healing that beholding it or experiencing it brings only for oneself. This is NATURE. It’s for the people. I have no sense of “I saw it first” or “outsiders not allowed.” I have much sense of “this is amazing and I want others to experience it (either through photos or in person)”.
In the other camp are the people who bemoan the loss of the river they knew in the 90's or the 70's or whenever, when no out-of-owners came up on weekends and every spot was a naked spot and you could make camp wherever you pleased. I totally understand this nostalgia. My hometown (South Lake Tahoe, CA) is also not what it used to be due to tourism and a flock of new residents who didn't know it when. And it's sad to have watched it change so.
But I also understand that change is the only constant in the universe, that cultures evolve, and that ours has evolved this thing called “the internet” that has made crazy amounts of information available and allowed people to travel to places they may have never heard of otherwise.
There is no reversing this process. If we all stopped posting pictures of the river right now, people would not stop coming. The newspaper and the TV news station from the nearest metropolis have both done stories on this river over the years, including pieces on "secret spots". Local businesses share its virtues with potential customers on their websites and blogs. And people who live here or have ever been here continue to bring out-of-town friends and family to experience its unreal majesty for themselves.
I won’t stop posting photos of the river, just like I won’t stop posting photos of Lake Tahoe or Joshua Tree or Big Sur or any other place that I visit. I am physically incapable of keeping beauty to myself. I have to share it, especially if I think it will bring peace or hope or healing to someone.
That being said, I am giving in to the pressure I feel from my community and have decided to stop answering the question “where is this?” that inevitably gets asked in the comments under every river shot. (*cough I won’t delete past answers or change past captions that share locations cough*)
I am lucky to have people in my life, even (!) people who grew up here, who feel the same way I do. People who want to share instead of hoard beauty. People who want others to experience what they’ve experienced at the river. People who understand that the arrow of time moves in one direction ⇨ forward.
H O W E V E R
Lest I give off the impression that the folks who want to keep the river a secret are all and only selfish snobs, let us address one of the main reasons they are afraid of more people coming to the river, because I am totally aligned with them here and this is the point of this post-
Some people are jackasses who don’t know how to act in nature.
I swear to god, sometimes I think the future laid out in the movie Idiocracy is already here. Sadly, I often think this at the river.
This spot, a local's favorite with towering rocks and the most perfect swimming hole, now sports a number of spray-painted sacred geometry mandalas on some of its boulders. From the deepest level of my being I say FUCK THAT. Just because it's "art" or has some pseudo spiritual vibe to it doesn't mean it's okay to desecrate the natural beauty of a place! I can just imagine the hubris of the asshat who created these monstrosities, thinking they're sharing their imagined enlightenment with the mindless masses when all they're actually doing is permanently ruining a pristine sanctuary of fun and healing.
It's things like this that make me totally understand the people who get angry with me for sharing the river on social media (even though I am 99.9% sure that the herb-loving mothers and others who follow me would never do anything like that).
And having to concede that maybe hoarding this beauty is a good idea after all sucks.
So, based on my observations of what has been increasingly happening at the river over the years I’ve been going and on conversations I’ve had with many other locals, here are my suggestions for-
How To Act In Nature
Basically it all boils down to- Party At Home, Relax In Nature
Don’t bring your fucking boombox/iPod with speakers. Two reasons. 1) You can’t hear the fucking river rambling by or the ocean waves lapping the shore or the crows telling each other things or the wind whispering through the trees. It is the experience of every human throughout time that the sounds of nature soothe (especially water), and the whole point of making an excursion out of your normal reality is to immerse yourself in something other than your usual scene. You can listen to your music almost every other moment of your life. If you’re going to be in nature, listen to nature. If you’ve got that bass bumpin’ you also can’t hear the shouts of the nearby people whose time outside you are ruining with your shitty taste in music. Because 2) no matter how rad you think your music is, chances are the people you’ll be sharing that sacred space with disagree, and you will ruin this day they took off of work and packed food and drove out for. Projecting your noise pollution onto others so that you can superimpose your day-to-day reality onto your nature excursion is inconsiderate and rude.
Forgo the alcohol. I know, sacrilege, right? I’m drinking a beer as I write this. I enjoy alcohol sometimes. Mostly in social gatherings, sometimes to get me through tedious computer work in the evening. Like blasting the same music you listen to at home, drinking alcohol during your time in nature just puts an invisible barrier between you and your surroundings. Humans crave novelty, and modern humans desperately need the medicine nature has to offer. We numb the very experiences we crave when we bring our distracting daily habits into the wild. I'm not saying don't have a couple beers around the campfire, I get that. But if you're just spending a day at the river, then spend that time actually immersed in the experience of the sunlight and the rushing water and the fish nibbling at your toes instead of sitting in your chair nursing a beer pretending you're back home on the couch. You came out to experience the river, so experience it.
Don't take "au natural" too far. At the same spot I wrote about above a couple of friends, along with their children, recently stumbled upon a strung-out couple openly fucking. They were so out of it it took them a while to realize they had spectators, children among them. This is a spot close to the road and easily accessible and frequently frequented. Like many of my fellow Yuba river (ding ding ding!) lovers, I am all about being naked in nature. It gets harder, as time goes by, for me to maintain the socially appropriate layer of cloth that separates me from the feeling of divinely textured mountain water on my skin. But I only strip down at the appropriate places. And if I wanted to fuck my boyfriend at the river I'd find the most secluded spot I could. I'd hike miles. I'd make sure no one's child might walk down a path they'd trod a hundred times only to behold the novel and confusing vision of my ass flying up into the air over and over (which is exactly what those kids saw). Just because you're getting in touch with your primal nature out in the wild doesn't make it okay to behave as though the rules of respect that govern human society no longer apply. Unless it's a naked spot or no one is around, keep your clothes on. Unless you've found a secret cavern, don't have sex in a public place. And for the love of god never EVER masturbate on a rock while watching girls swim. I've had this happen to me and I've heard way too many similar stories. Again, being outside doesn't mean that the social contract and human decency are suddenly irrelevant and that you may give your sexual desires the license to run wild.
Obviously, you also need to pack out your trash and not hurt the animals or set the place on fire. I'm not going into those obviouses here.
Again, the main point I'm trying to make is that- tempting as it may sound to combine the two relaxing experiences of being and nature and partying, please consider not combining them. When you drink/do drugs, listen to music, or blatantly indulge your sexual desires without being aware of your surroundings, you distance yourself from the very experience you're seeking.
If you're going to make the effort to be in nature, then make the conscious decision to simply be in nature. Immerse yourself. You'll be so happy you did.