“A river woke me up in the middle of the night.”
That’s how Eileen Delehanty Pearkes described the moment she decided to write The Heart of a River to the students of Rosemont Elementary, during a visit on Monday morning.
According to her, the Columbia River itself insisted on speaking through her.
“The Columbia River knocked on the door of my office at work and said ‘pick up your pen, I have a story to tell you’,” said Pearkes. She used an overhead projector to share the illustrations by local artist Nichola Lytle.
Pearkes’ book is narrated by the Columbia, and takes readers through its lengthy history while introducing them to some of the politics and controversies surrounding its use and stewardship. It details the arrival of people “pale as river stones” who disrupt the equilibrium it had achieved with the Sinixt People.
“I am the Columbia River. This is my story,” Pearkes read. “I am a river whose heart struggles to pulse with the rhythms of life.”
Unfortunately, its task of transporting salmon to the sea has been interrupted by dams and development. That’s a topic Pearkes has written about in her non-fiction book A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change, but for River she’s simplified the message for younger audiences.
“I am a river whose work has been interrupted by a prosperity I do not recognize, whose spirit is impoverished and silenced. Someday I will again be able to carry the salmon on the backs of my currents.”
And, she told the kids, they should all care about what happens to the Columbia.
“I wonder how the people pale as river stones could understand so little about my purpose, what I was born for: to find my way with great freedom and power to the sea.”
Pearkes plans to tour this book to other schools in the district, and share her passion for the river with people throughout the Kootenays.