Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Common water

The author’s son getting a rowing lesson on Alaska’s Skilak Lake. Photo by Nelli Williams.

By Nelli Williams

Rivers bring people together.

Some of my fondest friend-filled memories are on the river. Where we’ve laughed til our cheeks hurt—even years later— over the chaos in the boat when that first fish hit; or enjoyed a gravel bar beer to celebrate or mourn the loss of a good fish; or survived an hour-long bushwhack through devil’s club and remained friends just to see if a river had any fish in it.

The river is the glue that holds my family together. From building Mississippi mudpies with my sister and learning to bait a hook with a worm when I was a kid, to an early morning fishing trip with a stranger-turned-husband, to listening my daughter’s glee at catching her first fish, and watching my son learn how to row a boat in the setting sun on Skilak Lake.

I have felt the soothing current of a river heal the sometimes weary and ragged soul of motherhood, bringing me closer to my kids and myself.

I have watched the bickering of a long car ride between brother and sister shift to giggles as soon as we hit the water.

I’ve experienced first-hand how the threats to a river from an ill-conceived and giant gold mine (and the salmon in them) make friends out of previous worst enemies.

I’ve also watched time on the river bring two very different cultures closer together.

I’ve watched how a river can bring someone who has lost a love, a bit closer to the person they miss.

I’ve watched two people who, off the river, are on opposite ends of most issues, find common ground on the river.

In a time where people are threatening the lives of fellow citizens, respectful discourse seems distant and common ground ungraspable, maybe a little more time on the river is just what we need right now.

Williams family at the Kenai River. Photo courtesy of Nelli Williams.

Nelli Williams is the Alaska director. She lives in Anchorage.

By Jenny Weis.