Words for the River

Adrian Werner of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre shares his reflection on urban nature and our prairie waterscape, in the lead up to NatureCity Festival 2017.

The South Saskatchewan River and I cross paths daily; we are like old friends. I commute by bike over the river in the morning and evening. On the weekends I walk along its banks looking for animals, plants, and signs of the slow-marching seasons. The river changes colours, textures, and hues. The shifts in colour sometimes cause me to stop on my commute and watch as a cloud passes over. Sometimes the water appears steel-grey and seems to brood beneath a cover of clouds, other times it is almost glacier blue. At sunset the whole river can be like hammered bronze.

There are things about the river that make me happy and others that worry me. I am concerned about the untreated storm water that pours out of our yards, streets, and parking lots into the river. The foam is a sign of the complex chemical cocktail we contribute to the water. When the green is a little too vibrant I realize that it is an algal bloom from the nutrients that we are also adding. I am alsounnerved that the river does not freeze here; the power plant contributing the warmth that keeps it open. But the river also keeps me excited. Open water is a haven for birds that would otherwise leave for warmer places. Open water also takes the edge off of the February doldrums.

The natural history of Saskatoon means we can walk beside the river's sandy islands, or near sheltered wetlands, but we can also look down on it from high banks. We can dip or hands in or watch it flow by from far above. Every tributary is carved into the banks like crow's-feet on the prairie.

As a gardener I make use of water from the South Saskatchewan. I follow the journey of the water from the treatment plant, through the city's pipes, to a tap, then a hose, and finally into the ground. Some of it remains in the food I grow; I eat and drink the South Saskatchewan. I appreciate that I can borrow this water, but I also hope for rain. It uses less energy and then I can eat the water that falls from the sky as well.

As we approach another Nature City Festival, I hope you can imagine for a moment all the cycles of water that happen in our city and stare in awe as another cloud dapples this blue, grey, brown, and green-eyed river.