Kayaking the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

This Love Note to the Buffalo National River Reminds Us that Life is Fleeting

Lindsay Martindale loves wildlands, working lands, and wildlife and strives to respect the values of each. She is thrilled to be the Colorado Plateau Project Manager for Wildlands Network.

Dear Buffalo River,

Remember when I was a child? My big brother and I loved to paddle your muddy spring rapids. I would navigate the river while he fished the rapids, which often ended up with the boat in the bushes and no fish on the hook. Thank you for your wild and undeveloped spaces.

Hey River, remember that cold December Sunday when my brother’s hiking trip with friends turned into an overnight trip? They forded your cold waters in the night, only to sit around a campfire, naked and humbled, on the other bank ’til morning. Thank you for your honesty, River, reminding us that you are not a theme park, but a national park, where self-reliance is key.

A few years ago, our relationship really deepened. I moved home to heal. I had explored many rivers in the name of science to protect them. I’d explored down the Grand Canyon and its tributaries, down many Texas rivers too, but in the process encountered personalities and behaviors in the backcountry that were sour and self-righteous. Respect and humility I did not always see. I was a voice for justice, which ain’t always easy. My soul was broken, and my body too. The pains of an old injury and big egos settled in my low back and I knew just the cure. I sat on your sandy river banks, felt the wind on my cheeks, the sun on my face, and the stillness in my bones. I felt the depths of despair. Your sandy banks gave me the space to feel it all, yet space to breathe through it all too. I started to hear that little voice within. I started to listen. I started to feel. Thank you for your opportunities for solitude…the space to heal.

Hey River, remember when, I wore the pickle suit, the green and gray? I joined the National Park Circus to sing, dance and interpret you? One of my favorite moments as a Buffalo National River park ranger was guiding a group of young girl scouts downstream. I loved witnessing their demeanor change from terrified at the put-in to empowered by the end. Thank you for empowering young Black women.

River, I left but then returned when Covid-19 hit. I wanted to be in the safe haven of home. So, I pinned on my ranger badge and I spread the good word: drink lots of water, social distance, haven’t you heard? But I can’t reach every visitor with ranger pro-tips on how to survive. Some men went hiking in the Ponca Wilderness, to find cool stuff, they said. One went missing, wasn’t at the point last seen, so searching I went, five days of June heat. I remembered your lesson, so I sat still in the wilderness, and listened within. As I fell asleep on night four of the search, I had a vision of our missing friend. He was lying on his back with his denim shirt unbuttoned, relaxed as if he fell asleep. The next day in my search I was persistent, patient, I listened to that voice within. I sat still and felt the Buffalo River wind on my skin. I dropped into a drainage and what did I see, but a gentleman in a denim shirt and jeans, under a waterfall, lying on his back relaxed and free.

I am a witness to death, and you know what I’d say? I’d say dying in the wilderness is a beautiful place to be and that Edward Abbey would agree. Thank you, Buffalo River, for reminding me, that life is fleeting, enjoy each day, the present moment’s all we’ve got, but remember to create lasting memories. You taught me how not to discriminate, how to take a stand. You loved me unconditionally until I learned how to love myself. I will always remember you, dear River, and the time we spent together.

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Would you like to write about public lands that you cherish? Please email Mary Jo Brooks at brooksm@nwf.org for guidelines. You’ll get this sticker as a thank you.

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National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.