When to Speak Up When You See Danger on the River

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Dear Mountain Mama,

Last weekend I watched a couple with their dog getting into a flat-bottom canoe without air bags. I wondered whether they mostly paddled flatter sections of the river upstream. I debated whether to say something about the danger posed by paddling without float bags. I decided against it.

Later that day we came across the same group after their boat had capsized. We helped them get their canoe and gear to shore. They told us that their dog was probably already on the bank, waiting for them.

When we righted their boat, we discovered that the dog hadn’t swum to shore. She had gotten trapped underneath the canoe. Despite our best efforts to resuscitate her, she was gone.

I feel partially to blame. Am I?

Didn’t Dare to Speak


Dear Didn’t Dare to Speak,

What a tremendous weight to carry around. The blame game is dangerous to play. The what-ifs and could-have-beens are too many to speculate. And no matter how long you linger in the feeling-guilty-space, you will never know if events might have unfolded differently had you said something.

Didn’t Dare to Speak, all we can do is learn from the past. And we can all learn to do better the next time around.

Once I too was at a put-in and saw something that made me want to say something. There was a father and his two children, both under ten. Nobody was wearing a helmet as they started rafting down the Class III stretch of whitewater. A feeling welled up deep in side of me, a truth that begged to be voice. But instead, I told myself, don’t meddle, you’re just starting to paddle. What do you know about rafting anyway?

Not an hour I looked into that father’s eyes as he held the body of his nine-year old daughter. The raft had rapped on a rock, she alone had fallen out, and hit her head. His eyes met mine with a bewildered, hollow look. I would have traded a million times over the mind-your-own-business glare that he might have given me at the put-in, had I said his children should wear helmets.

We are all connected, more than we even imagine. Loss ripples through us, and all of us grieve. Because of our humanity, we have a right to share our concerns for one another. That kind of caring is at the very essence of our humanity. Be part of what makes the river community so strong by daring to speak when you see danger on the river.

Mountain Mama

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