Suddenly, she’s walking faster. Nearly bouncing in her steps. Pulled forward as if hooked to an invisible string. She sees the Lochsa River and the memories from half a lifetime ago are flooding back.
Breaking through the brush and trees, she’s standing on the bank of the river. Gazing in silence. Rooted in place.
My mother and I spent the weekend at Lochsa Lodge in Idaho, buried in the folding valleys of the Nez Perce – Clearwater National Forests. It’s Friday, our first night there, and we’ve just made the short walk to the river from the lodge.
Standing on the bank of the fast-flowing water, she recalls her memories of this place. Memories I hadn’t heard and memories I suspect she hadn’t recalled until being next to this body of water.
As a young woman she bike-toured solo along U.S. Route 12, with travels east through Idaho and Montana. Much of her time biking was spent along the banks of the river. She remembers camping along the side of the road.
And she backpacked numerous times in Lolo National Forest, often within sight of the river. She soaked in natural hot springs discovered along the river’s bank.
Those memories were embodied, vivid and fully accessible Friday.
Her physical response to the river and the memories it recalled illustrates “the power of place.” In her late 20s the river infected her consciousness in a way that persisted through the decades. She has an embodied memory that was created when she connected and communed with a natural and wild place.
This response resonates with strategies often deployed by conservation groups. The more exposure humans get to wild places, the more likely we are to protect them, they argue. While that premise may be flawed, as outlined and argued in a May 14 High Country News essay by Ethan Linck, I think there is a deeper, more philosophical argument to be made for exposure and connection to wild places.
It puts us in our place, if for only a moment. For most, our lives are spent separate from our experience. Separate from the natural world around. I interact with things, but those things that are kept at arm’s length.
My mother’s experience on the bank of the Lochsa River was different. The memory, forged while she was young, subverted her normal way of being in the world.
For a moment, however brief, she was not looking at the Lochsa River. She was consumed by a felt sense of both memory and present moment embodiment of the Lochsa River.
Correction: The story misstated which national forest the Lochsa River is in. It has been corrected.