Life and Death and Cottonwoods on the Similkameen River

Rivers flood. It’s one of the things they do. They’re pretty good at it. The Similkameen River, with a minimum flow of 65 cubic feet per second at Nighthawk, an average flow of 2283 cubic feet per second, and a maximum flow of 45,800 cubic feet per second, goes up and down more than most. Some thirty-odd years ago, it laid down these gravel bars north of Keremeos, then got all choked up in a big winter flood, with ice dams all jumbled together with cottonwood debris, new and old, scoured off all the bottom land upriver. The result was a channel cutting right through the bar, and when the ice melted away, it left a deep pile of cottonwoods. This is winter work.

Successive floods planted cottonwoods and pines in behind. For now, the cottonwoods are making soil. The years are mixing it with cottonwood leaves, and fungal communities are rotting it all away. When the next big flood comes, it will be pulverized and will settle on any land it can get as soil.

Dikes added to the river to control its floods have succeeded in increasing its flow rates. Instead of depositing its soil on its floodplain, it will carry it down to the Pacific and drop it off the Warrenton shore of the Columbia. In this way, the river is being trained to devour the land, and life, and carry it all away. The nature of the river is to increase life, in partnership with cottonwoods. They are trees that should never be felled. They make the world.

3 replies »

  1. I have missed your photos and stories these past months. Glad to see you back in my inbox. Thank you for carrying on, blessing us with the beauty of our mother.


    • Glad to be back. It’s sporadic. Telus goofed up my accounts, which makes it all less seamless than before. I could make myself into a business, then WordPress would post automatically for me, but I don’t feel like a business, so I have to do it manually, and back to Telus we go. It’s a merry go round. However, I’ve fixed a few things, so let’s hope for more!


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