Where Rivers Run in the Human Heart

Kurt D. Fausch
Kurt D. Fausch

IT WAS THE WEEKLY MONDAY MORNING Stream Team seminar in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Room 32 in Nash Hall was packed. At the front stood guest speaker Kurt Fausch, looking the part of a lifelong field researcher, his casual, earth-toned clothes hanging loose and comfortable on his long, lanky frame. But he was about to reveal his alter ego as a philosopher of wild waters. As the photos of rivers and estuaries began flashing on the screen, ink drawings of the same scenes faded up to replace them. Meaning shifted, from the science of the physical world to the interpretations of that world through art. He showed no graphs. He skipped over the “capture and recapture” statistics that fisheries experts typically swim in. Rather, the words he spoke were ones we usually leave to poetry and literature and spirituality — words like agape, the Greek word for the kind of love that “seeks good things for the beloved,” he said.

Emotional content? At a science talk? If anyone there was uncomfortable, it didn’t show. Fausch, a professor at Colorado State University, was at OSU to introduce his new book, just released by OSU Press: For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey. That love wrapped itself around his presentation without apology. He talked about what it felt like to paddle on Oregon’s coastal Salmon River and other rivers around the world. His face showed his mournfulness for “what we’ve lost and what we have yet to lose.” He was talking not only about losses to habitat and water resources but losses to hearts when rivers dry up and cease to nourish our spirits. He talked about the ways in which rivers “calm us, heal us, give us solace in times of grief.”

Fausch Book Cover_ForTheLoveOfRivers[1] copyHe talked about his collaborations with environmental philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore and with Freshwaters Illustrated filmmaker Jeremy Monroe. He spoke with deep feeling about his late colleague, mentor and close friend, Japanese scientist Shigeru Nakano, who died during a storm in the Sea of Cortez in 2000.

His words drifted among the listeners with a clear note of insistence. He was asking his audience not only to listen. He was asking them to act.

He challenged this gathering of river scientists at OSU (whom he identified as the “best stream ecology program in the world”) to join the “bully pulpit,” to push for conservation, for policy change, for greater awareness of what’s at stake, not just for our planet but for our spirit. He reminded them of the “power of story,” that reaching the broader public requires more than making an appeal to their brains with cerebral content. It demands touching their hearts.

You can order Kurt Fausch’s book, For the Love of Rivers, on the OSU Press website, http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/for-love-of-rivers.