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Source-to-Sea solo kayak trip on the Columbia River, starting July 2019.

“The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. If our hearts are big, we can be like the river.”  — Thich Nhat Hanh

The bridge is long and narrow, old and odd, and begins with a toll person collecting two greenbacks. It stretches across the river in the heart of the gorge, where the wind whips through with serious force. The steel-grated road surface pulls at tires, first to the right then to the left, towards the river or towards oncoming traffic. The hum of tires on steel gives the impression that the bridge is singing, changing tones through the middle section that can lift away to allow large ships to pass.

The mile-long drive on the bridge that crosses over the Columbia River between the towns of Hood River, Oregon and White Salmon, Washington is plenty long enough to allow for contemplation. On one such drive to visit my brother several years back, I found myself contemplating the river itself, and the fact that some of the water flowing beneath had also snaked through my home town far from here. I wondered how much time had passed between then and now? What had that water flowed through, over, and past? I imagined an autumn leaf falling from a riverside tree near Golden and the journey that ultimately swept it under this bridge. 

Somehow, perhaps against better judgement, I’ve decided I’d like to become that leaf.

Starting in July 2019 I’ll be paddling from source to sea on the Columbia River. One kayak, three months,  14 dams and 2000 kilometres. The recipe for the trip consists of one part personal challenge, one part photographic exploration, one part art project, and a dash of foolhardiness. Among my many sources of inspiration for this trip is a friend who turned a kayak touring expedition into fine art, which opened my eyes to the possibility of building this long-imagined river trip into my career as an artist. With this in mind, I’ll be creating and presenting a growing series of images in two art galleries along the river as I travel; the Kootenay Gallery (Castlegar) and Columbia Art Gallery (Hood River). 

Rather than creating art based solely on my opinions of the river, I’ll allow my process to be shaped by the concerns of people I meet. These concerns may relate to flood control, energy production, fisheries and migration, ecosystems, agriculture and food security, navigation, economic stability and growth, loss of sacred sites, displaced communities, and changes in climate and hydrology. I’ll be inviting people along the way to contribute to a collaborative trip log by sharing their words, art, and other contributions relating to the river. I see myself literally carrying the weight of these collected stories downstream, packing the trip log into my kayak and shouldering it as I portage around dams. 

I imagine that every interaction with local river residents along my journey will shape the way I view each new section I paddle, creating a kaleidoscope of experience as I travel. The overall goal is to highlight both the diversity of people living along the Columbia, and the commonalities we all share. 

Sometime after I’ve completed the 2000 kilometres, a final exhibition will show the handcrafted wooden kayak I’m building for the journey, photographic prints, and the collaborative trip log. This will encourage viewers to contemplate their connection to the natural environment, while also allowing people with differing views to see one another through a lens of compassion and interest. 

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