Chapter 11. Reflections
We have to protect our water. Because in the end, what we do to water, we do to ourselves. (Robert Sandford, Water and Our Way of Life)
I count myself a most fortunate being. Alongside my good friends and family, I have explored most of a watershed. I have wandered around in the headwaters of the Elbow River, in the dramatic landscape of the Front Ranges, and attempted to understand where those mountains came from and why they look as they do today. I have sat in the watershed’s sensitive alpine meadows, marvelling at the tiny pink campion and the curious climate challenged pikas. I have enjoyed the amenities of a beautiful mountain backcountry campground, sitting beside a clear headwater lake under the stars. For the moment, it seems almost pristine.
Then, walking downriver into the watershed’s subalpine zone, I have pondered the hydrologic cycle which largely governs the quantity of water available to the watershed, and have thought about the people who have been in this elevated place – the mountain adventurers and mappers who put names to the magnificent features of the landscape. How did they treat this landscape? Very lightly.
Having the freedom to backpack through the relatively unspoiled area where the mountains meet the foothills is a privilege. Here the watershed is so broad and so varied I cannot get to all of it. But to sit by the Elbow and examine its river ecosystems – riparian, benthic and aquatic – is an education. Finding diverse subalpine flora, each with special traits and uses – like valerian, cow parsnip and the larch tree – makes every hike unique.