The Haw River Paddler


Canoe Class

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein

Where does water come from and what is a river?  (An article written by Joe Jacob for the February edition of the Chatham County Line Newspaper)

When you cross over the Haw River while driving on Hwy. 15-501, do you ever wonder where the water comes from? Do you ever ask yourself, what a river is?

The Haw River originates in Forsythe County when pure water comes out of two springs on land owned and protected by the Haw River Assembly. That spring water then joins with water from several large creeks to flow 110 miles through Rockingham, Guilford, Alamance, Orange and Chatham Counties to its junction with the Deep River a mile downriver from the dam that created Jordan Lake. Then, it is on its way to the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Cape Fear River.

So, where does that spring water come from? Rain that seeps into the ground of course, but where does the rain come from? Warm water vapor over the oceans evaporates into clouds. But where did the origial water on earth come from? Water vapor from volcanoes and melting ice from asteroids entering the earth’s atmosphere is the source. Pretty amazing isn’t it? Pretty scary, too, when you think about it. All the water on earth is all the water we have, clean or polluted, except for future asteroids bringing more water as they crash into the earth.

Throughout the year, you probably notice that the river doesn’t always carry the same volume of water. During winter and early spring months or just after heavy rains brought on by hurricanes in late summer or early fall months, the river often floods. For experienced whitewater canoers and kayakers, this is a wonderful time to be paddling on the Haw River. For the inexperienced paddler, this can be a very dangerous time and should be avoided. During hot weather months local whitewater enthusiasts go into a state of mourning, but there is always enough water upriver of the five large, historic textile dams for the casual paddler to connect with the best of what warm water has to offer.

Now that you have some idea of where Haw River water comes from its time to provide a little description of what a river is. It is certainly more than just water and not just what you see while driving 55 miles per hour across the Hwy. 15-501 bridge. A river is a living, breathing system of land and water and the myriad of animals and plants that live in, on, around and under it. By the way, whether or not you understand your connection to rivers, that includes you. You are part of that living system.

There are a lot of ways to describe a river by comparing its processes and functioning parts to the human body. You might say that evaporation, the chemistry of water, the physical properties of soil, and gravity make up the river’s brain. Without being aware of it, water forms in the air, drops to the ground and then seeks its destiny by flowing down hill to the sea. On its way, water brings nutrients to the many life forms found both in the river channel and the floodplain forest. Mollusks and other invertebrates filter the water while terrestrial and aquatic plants remove toxins, both natural and man-made. That is just like you and me. Without thinking about it, our hearts pump blood throughout our bodies. That blood baths our cells while bringing nutrients that keep us alive. Our kidneys filter the blood and our liver removes the toxins.

There is a life force easily observed in a river and a living human body for those who have eyes to see and a heart to understand. Try sitting down next to the river and hear its water flow over and around rocks. Then, listen to your breathing and maybe even hear or feel your blood pulsating through your veins and tell me you don’t sense your connection to the rhythms of the earth. As the naturalist, John Muir, said over 100 years ago, “rivers flow not past, but through us, tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.”