Shifting Resonance: Klamath River
Ode to the Eddy Muffin
Foam and duckweed in one of Julie’s research sites above the JC Boyle dam cover the surface of the water. Foam swirls and builds into pillows as it follows the many currents in the eddy. As a whitewater kayaker, we called the foam “eddy muffins.” I hadn’t known what the eddy muffins were or why they were found in some rivers but not others. The Klamath River is full of them, but the nearby Smith and Trinity Rivers do not have eddy muffins. It was a mystery.
Eddy muffins are a result of eutrophication which occurs in water with high nutrient levels. Scientists refer to the Klamath River as a productive river – a river that produces a large number of plants and algae. Eutrophication is naturally occurring, especially in productive rivers and warm shallow lakes like the Upper Klamath Lake, but it is also exacerbated by industrial wastewater and fertilizers and waste from farming and ranching practices. Eutrophication can severely decrease water oxygen levels, creating conditions that can kill fish and other aquatic animals.
This eddy, and all of its foam, is above all four dams that will be removed. The water will still be full of nutrients and fertilizers from the ranches and farms upstream but the eddy may retreat with the disappearance of the dam and reservoir below it. Nutrients will continue to affect the interconnected ecotones all the way to the ocean, but I am curious to see if the eddy water rejoins the downstream flow, will there be fewer places for the duckweed to grow thick and for the currents to churn large foam eddy muffins and to send them downstream?
Ode to the Eddy Muffin: Eddy at the Gun Club 1, synthetic paper, applique pins, & acrylic, 8.5 x 8.5 in., 2023, Leah Wilson
Ode to the Eddy Muffin: Eddy at the Gun Club 2, synthetic paper, applique pins, & acrylic, 8.5 x 17 in., 2023, Leah Wilson
Ghost of JC Boyle
JC Boyle is not a ghost yet, but it will be soon. It’s a large, complicated concrete and metal monument of human engineering and hubris. It divides, holds back, and diverts flow, and passage. This relic of 1958 will finally be coming down.
Dams like these are disorienting. They disrupt the river so it no longer acts as a river does. This one is almost obsolete.
Its removal will cause disruption for some individuals and communities. Places they know will no longer exist. Markers of memories will change shape. Rhythms and patterns will change. This is another form of disorientation. It can be traumatic when a place, naturally formed or engineered – it matters not, quickly shape shifts.
I am impatient to see the change.
Yet, I still feel some twinges of resistance because I too have memories here, held by this dam.
Ghost of JC Boyle, charcoal on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 in., 2023, Leah Wilson
The gun club and the eddy are two places I wouldn’t enter without good reason, and together, they have a darkly seductive draw. I have entered the gun club twice because that’s where the eddy is accessed. My first visit to the eddy was punctuated by the sound of gunshots. The second was snow-covered and silent.
This beginning on a cold dusky evening was so near to the last place I floated the Klamath River years ago when I was teaching kayaking. This beginning met the previous end, picking up the dropped thread and beginning to weave a new pattern. That night we slept in our tents next to the river, listening to foxes screaming in the night.
An introduction to my Klamath River Project: What interests me more than knowledge and answers that science provides are the questions we each ask, why we ask them, and the ways we go about trying to find answers. Within the questions, I have found many points of convergence between art and science, primarily in process. My goal with this project is not to explain or illustrate science with my art. Doing so would keep the science contained within the realm of the intellect. Rather my aspiration is to ask better questions so I can know the river, as well as I can, to see and experience it from different perspectives, and to create artwork alongside science that may provide a shift of perception or a doorway that opens to awe and wonder.
Dams fascinate me. We build large walls to hold the water back. We try to tame the water so we can control how much and when it flows. This contradicts the nature of water which is to constantly flow. Dams make me uneasy.
Thank you for your support!
Support for the ongoing research of this project is from Dr. Jerri Bartholomew, director of Oregon State University’s John L. Freyer Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory, and Assistant Professor) Senior Research) Julie Alexander.
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