To create this list of “contraband” practices (forwarded by David Naguib Pellow in our feature of the same name), our contributors responded to the following question: If you were to gift someone one thing (reading/practice/site of engagement) to guide them to environmental justice or a different relationship with water, what would it be?
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The River Nile has long been a subject of study and veneration. From the earliest times the Nile has presented problems upon which men have speculated. “Two of the most important which have been discussed since the time of Herodotus, the position of the sources of the Nile and the origin of its annual flood, were solved during the last and at the beginning of the present century.”
In December of 2016, I went on the journey of a lifetime to kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa on a faculty-led excursion titled “Summits to Sea” with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Along with nine other students and two faculty members, we traversed across South Africa from the source of the great rivers in the Drakensburg Mountains all the way to their opening in the Indian Ocean. For three weeks, we hiked, swam, and kayaked our way through the various water systems that affect the economy, ecology, and public health in South Africa.
The Mississippi River flows just beyond the buildings on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank where my office is. Most days, as I have done throughout my 16 years here, I walk along the river to the classrooms where I teach. It would be hard to find a person on campus who doesn’t share a nostalgic fondness for the river as we glance at it, drive over it, and jog and bike across it. We are happy to claim the river under the bridges, across the…
Imagine pouring out a glass of water. Where does the water go?
After soaking your computer or floor, it would eventually flow to join a greater body of water and become part of a larger drainage system. Where I grew up, outside of Milwaukee, my water would join with Lake Michigan. In the Twin Cities, where I went to university, it would flow into the Mississippi River. From Jackson, Wyoming, where I’m writing now, it would combine with the Snake River and flow into the Pacific Ocean. But Glacier National Park, where I worked in the summer of 2017, has a unique little point called Triple Divide Peak.
The aspiring young undergraduate scientists envision fieldwork as a romantic escape from the office cubicle, classroom desk, and seemingly endless pile of homework. Working alongside experts in their field, they anticipate working in the wildest regions of the world: dense tropical forests, remote mountain ranges, and distant glacial rivers. They see themselves on the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries: truly shattering the scientific community with a cure for Malaria, discovery of a new species, or theory of planetary evolution.
Wilderness is a feeling. It is more than that, of course—wilderness is the wind and the water, the turtles and coyotes, all that exists beyond and around and within our human selves. But when we speak of wilderness, we’re so often speaking about a feeling: that feeling of smallness, strangely comforting, or of connection, or of wonder at how much there is in the world.
When I’m asked to speak about the work I do as an artist, a cultural organizer, and Collaborative Director of Water Bar & Public Studio, I often struggle with two important points of departure: How do I introduce myself when I have so many different roles in my artistic and organizing life? And where do I begin telling the story of this complex, evolving project—which I did not imagine or develop on my own, and which is more of ecosystem that I tend with others than it is a definable creative project?