Gibbs, Naomi Elizabeth
May 11, 2011
In the American West, water and land have been subject to extensive projects of reclamation, to continuous progress in a deeply rooted initiative to better the waste land. This drama is acted out daily on the Columbia Plateau, where the federal Reclamation Act funded the construction of fourteen dams on the river’s main stem. At the heart of the dams on the Columbia is the trope of control over nature. It is a project unique in its particularities, but familiar in its place in a larger narrative. The dams are reactive; they respond to everything about water, specifically about rivers, that is unpredictable: seasonal fluctuations, white water, floods--perhaps floods most of all. The Columbia Plateau has a long history of floods, small and large. Most note-worthy, of course, are the Missoula Floods. In the basalt floodplains of eastern Washington there are stories in the earth and the rivers, stories of both the Missoula Floods and the damming of the Columbia. These stories circle together, creating a seamless narrative of the tamed and the wild, control and the complete absence of it. They work together to create a mythology of the West, a mythology that plays with archetypal metaphors embodied in new characters and places. By listening to this mythology we can begin to see what lies downstream before we ever get there; it can show us the clear tendencies of human progress, in terms of what they are responding to, and help us understand why those tendencies seem so often to lead more to destruction than to creation.
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