The force of water. Trickles from streams and wetlands, from rains that run down mountainsides and hills into ravines and valleys, become raging rivers that carve out so much of the geography of this planet.

Yesterday we drove the Icefields Parkway, a stunning drive I recommend as one of the most magificent highways in North America. The Canadian Rockies are breathtaking in their austere grandeaur, the bare rock that rises above timberline, evidence of avalanches and rock slides that show how these mountains are being carved out, redesigned by winds and snow and ice, over and over again.

After our night on the river at the Beauty Creek Hostel, our first stop was Sunwapta Falls. It wasn’t planned, we just couldn’t not go there. The waters of the Sunwapta join the Athabasca just a little farther on, so for us it was another way to honor the path of the water as it heads north and east towards Ft. McMurray and the tar sands.

The force of water. The sound. It’s all very simple. A whole lot of water suddenly has to pass through a very narrow space and then the built up pressure explodes out of that narrow space some hundreds of feet below – and you have waterfalls. And we humans experience this as incredible, breathtaking – we are stunned by it. When you first approach a magnificent waterfall, that is the experience. You can try to imagine it, but it stuns because the mind cannot wrap itself around such a force of nature that is so simple in its natural logic and so incredible in our experience of it.

But that was only the preparation for the even bigger event.

The highway finally brought us directly along the Athabasca, wide and thick and milky and powerful in its flow. We stopped to spend a long reflective time in our various solitudes to take in the river that is the heart of our pilgrimage. As we pulled into a parking area, we found a crowd of people with cameras across the road, so of course our attention was drawn there. The animal that was the source of fascination was a mountain goat, remarkably calm amidst the human hoopla, just wanting to get across the road for a drink of water. We were mesmerized.

Later, it did make it to the river, only to be disrupted from its drinking by more humans with more cameras.

What a strange species we are!  One wonders how these animals think of us…

So we arrived finally at one of the great natural wonders of the world – the Athabasca Falls. This was the day’s main event! I won’t even begin to describe our time there, only promise photos and maybe a video or two once we get back from our journey. As we spent our long, long time of meditation at this site, as we took in the sheer force of all that water that begins with some melting of ice and snow up in the Columbia Icefields, I was reminded of what the signs reported at the glacier and the geological record made clear – that the glacier was disappearing, and when that happens, that will be the end of this mighty river.

Can we really be doing that? Is it possible that we humans, knowing this now (before, we could at least say we did not know), will still proceed on course towards the entire melting of this glacier?

This past night and this morning, we are at a lodge near Jasper that sits right on the Athabasca River. It has rained a little and the smell of the wet pine trees and forest floor just about knocks your socks off. It’s clouding up again and we will probably have more of this today as we head a little farther downriver to our next 2-night stop, there to have more time to reflect and share, to be with the water, to deepen our relaionship with the river – even as we take our course steadily to the place where it has been contaminated and destroyed – so that industrial society can grow and expand, so that nothing dramatic in our lives needs to change.

But change, dramatic change, is coming. That is the message of the glacier and the river and the mountains and the forest. And as we pilgrims become one with what we are witnessing here, it will more and more become our message as well.

I am just stunned by the whole of this narrative…

About the author: Margaret Swedish believes that we must not only live differently, we must be differently. More about Margaret’s work is available on her website Spirituality and Ecological Hope –

2 comments… add one
  • I am with you and with the water. Thank you all so much for being there for all of us. Jeanne

  • Joan O'Keefe

    thanks for the vivid descriptions; it will be nice if you can send photos later on.

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