Watershed Community: A Century of East Idaho Authors

November 27, 2018

Everyone lives in a watershed. Place, this physical context, largely shapes our being. Out of the diversity of interests in the lifeblood of water arise our common values, our need to work together to protect both cultural and natural heritage. Whether on a local or regional or global scale, this is our watershed community.

Oct. 2, 2018, marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. This bill declared “that certain selected rivers of the Nation ... shall be preserved in free flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

According to an article by Tim Palmer commemorating this anniversary in Sierra Magazine, July-August 2018, the legislation originally protected just 12 rivers and their tributaries, but established protocol for adding other rivers to the system, resulting in a list that has grown to 300. Palmer, having written about American rivers for decades, says “Urgent threats of dams and diversions were halted with designation ... of the Snake in Idaho.”

Designation has come in different forms to various segments of the Snake River at numerous times over the years, and includes protection by the state. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was unique in its vision of preserving the landscape and the environment of river corridors, which are vital to the integrity of groundwater, our drinking water, as well.

Fast forward to Oct. 21-23 of 1999, when an Eastern Idaho Watershed Conference was held at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

“Building Watershed Community for the New Millennium” was funded in part by grants from the Idaho Humanities Council and River Network. It provided a forum for both surface and groundwater management agencies, along with interests of the public.

This project included publication of a book titled “Watershed Community: A Century of East Idaho Authors.” Both the book and the conference portrayed many-faceted relationships of people and landscape, of people and people, of people and life.

The book begins with the Northern Shoshoni Creation Story, as recorded, transcribed and translated by linguist Drusilla Gould of the Fort Hall tribes.

A section on “The Past” addresses the Euro-American determination to harness water resources in the West and the tranquility, as well as hard work, that was found on the small family farm. Voices from the past speak of sharp contrasts between desert and water.

The writing of “The Present” reflects aspects of survival in addition to economics. Water takes on dimensions of therapy, aesthetics, recreation, and the well-being of all life on Earth. For Eastern Idaho, concerns with water are even greater now than they were 20 years ago, considering severe drought conditions that have been caused by global warming.

Pocatello authors included in “Watershed Community” are Will Peterson, Doug Airmet, Jackie Maughan, Krishna Strong, and Joan Juskie. In 1999 former resident Bill Studebaker, recovering from a serious auto accident through therapeutic kayaking, was the conference’s featured speaker. He met a tragic death shortly afterward.

The 2018 passing of poet Harald Wyndham, who supported the Pocatello writers’ community over the course of 30 years, and who had just moved away following retirement, inspired this re-publication project. Harald’s masterpiece in the book was written especially for the conference. His death was echoed in September by that of fellow writer Aaron Hamilton, my brother.

“Watershed Community: A Century of East Idaho Authors” stands as a beacon for “the future” through the excellence of its poetry and prose and the urgency of its message. The book is available at Walrus and Carpenter Books, at the Pocatello Art Center for the holidays, and on amazon.com.

A signing will be held at the Walrus during the First Friday Art Walk on Dec. 7.

Anne Merkley of Pocatello has advanced degrees from Idaho State University in fine art, anthropology and political science. She has produced a number of books and was project director for the conference and editor of the book “Watershed Community: A Century of East Idaho Authors.”

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