Russian River: All Rivers

The Russian River is a great, lazy serpent in the summer. Her lovely green body curves through redwoods and vineyards, through open meadows and old tourist resorts, on her way to Jenner and the Pacific. I raised my sons well into their elementary years on that river. We learned her many moods: her rushing insistence in the winter which we could hear even as we drifted to sleep; the way she took the town, flooding homes and businesses alike, when the rains went on for too long.

One of my worst experiences with her happened the summer I took my sons, aged 2 1/2 and 7 months, swimming at the quiet beach that used to be Ginger’s Resort. We sat in the shallow water and played. And then we learned that Santa Rosa had another “accidental” spill of sewage and we were sitting in it.

It was during this time that a masked local business man, affectionately known as Manure Man, took his tractor and manure spreader to Santa Rosa and spread manure around the courthouse, saying, “If it’s good enough for Guerneville, it is good enough for Santa Rosa!” I remember a picture in the Press Democrat of a Santa Rosa city official drinking a glass of treated water from the sewage treatment plant, showing how safe it was. These were war days, and they are some of the inspiration of my novel, Goatsong. It seemed to be a battle of those downstream from those further up, so dramatically played out. Sewage spills upstream contaminated our wells for days after. It was really a coming into consciousness of how much we impact each other.

Recently I saw the documentary, Russian River: All Rivers: the Value of an American Watershed. It is gripping in its scope (this is not just the Russian River, folks! it’s all rivers!  If we keep up our ignorance of how we manage water, watersheds, and rivers, we are going to be out of water!)  It also is a wake up call: there is still something to be done. This needs to not be a battle, but rather an awakening to the impact of our actions and a gathering of all sides to protect the commons: our land, our watersheds, our rivers, our air. This is not about property rights, right to farm, profit, individual entitlements: it is about survival.

The documentary has several screenings, including a March 4 screening at the Cameo theater in St. Helena. Although there is no charge, there is a request for a donation at the door. You do need to make a reservation, however, as there is always a full house. E-mail Nancy at

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