Run river

Is there any doubt the best thing about Sacramento is that which is also the most dangerous? I write, of course, about the rivers, so high at New Year’s that we watched the levees anxiously, images of New Orleans fresh in our minds. So beautiful now, flowing through river parkways still green with the rains and exploding with wildflowers.

Rivers, floods and levees… these have always been the story of Sacramento. Me? I worry more about a little creek than a big river, backing up as my house does to what by this time of year is little more than a smelly dribble. But at least three times in my lifetime, this little dribble became a torrent, once taking out part of Cal Expo and twice putting Woodside under water.

When the rains fall and the rivers rise, I watch the creek.

But now is not the time to worry, about the creeks or the rivers. This is the time to enjoy the rivers, and we do. Discovery Park opened today, and along the river parkways the runners, hikers and bicyclists were out in full force.

Like all dog-lovers, I was out early. Like all dog-lovers, I know I have to be.

We walk over the levees with our dogs leashed, with tennis balls, floating throw toys and clean-up bags bulging the pockets of our slickers. We head deep into the brush, far from the trails, down to the river’s edge. The run-off is cold now, but the water dogs don’t care. We look around for rangers – not likely at this hour, the dawn barely here – and then slip the leashes off and throw.

And throw. And throw. And throw.

I do this year around, high water and low, in rain, fog and the early-morning haze of a triple-digit day. Walking the river trails, watching the river change, I truly appreciate those who fought to keep these miles of urban wilderness so close to the city core.

Even if they resist giving me and the other dog-lovers even the tiniest piece of it to call our own.

Maybe someday I can enjoy legally what I have been paying for with my property taxes all my adult life. Today, though, I remain a reluctant law-breaker, by the simple act of throwing a tennis ball in to the river for my well-trained, well-mannered and friendly dog to retrieve.

My arm always gives out before my retriever’s enthusiasm does, and mindful of the day’s chores and errands ahead, I leash up the dog and head back over the levee. Like most days, I am back home, coffee in hand, long before many even think about leaving the house. When most people take to the river parkway, the dog will be napping and I’ll be writing. Such is the rhythm of my days, and the place of the rivers in them.

The rivers are what set Sacramento apart from the other dusty, hot valley towns. A source of worry, a source of joy, but never out of the consciousness of those who live here. Are the worry and the risk worth it?

On a perfect spring morning…absolutely.

3 thoughts on “Run river”

  1. It was beautiful on the river today. As for lawbreaking, I’m sure the cops are more focused on what I saw a group of officers doing near Sunrise Blvd. — busting a bunch of kids who brought beer to the park.


  2. Just don’t even TRY to take your dog off leash along the river- especially at 6am on a Sunday morning. You could be smoking crack, downing a couple of 40s, and roasting a baby on a spit over a camp fire, and the park ranger would still be after the guy standing on the shore with his dog swimming after a tennis ball in the water. After all, whose more likely to actually have the money to pay any fine?

    Which is why my dog is encouraged to dig deep holes as often as possible. Who knows- even with 4WD, the ranger’s truck may happily get stuck in one of these things some day. Oh the joy.


  3. I attended a lecture at the zoo and was surprised to learn that the river parkway didn’t look as nice as it does today until quite recently. In the late 60’s a group of Activists and volunteers worked to raise the money to buy land that is now the American river parkway from private landowners.

    The project was pretty massive for it’s time and included remediation for the damage caused by mining and agriculture along the river and the creation of the public parks.

    It used to be impossible to see the American river without a boat.

    I used to keep my leash in my hand to satisfy those pesky rangers. Last week I saw a pretty large coyote near William pond and I’m reconsidering my policy.


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