In the sixties I lived in Tanzania with my
two baby boys and my husband, who was an agricultural advisor
in the Peace Corps. In the seventies, I became a community organizer
and worked for Werner Erhard. When I first came to the Mendocino
coast, I lived in Albion and became the director of the Albion
Community Center. Later I worked at the Mendocino Art Center,
where I organized the Mendocino Performing Arts Company. At
that time I was known as Patricia Hamilton.
By the early eighties, I edited a magazine
for the Mendocino Environmental Center called Eco-Logic
This was when I became so distressed with double-speak politicians
that my wild temper would take control of me. One day I was
down on my knees, saying, "Oh, God, if thereís really a God,
show me a sign. I must do something with this energy!"
Three nights in a row, I had the same
dream. I saw a tiny figure, far away, who kept coming closer
and closer until it sat on my chest and entered my body. Up
close, I saw that it was actually an old person sitting in the
lotus position. All night long a voice kept saying, "I am whole,
I am complete, I am good." For three days and nights, the voice
continued, even when I was having conversations with people.
On the fourth day, I went with friends
to Stanford University, to the Meeting of the Ways Conference--the
first big conference where the spiritual and anti-war communities
came together. On the way, I was chattering with my friends
and completely forgot about the dream and the voice.
Since I had been living in Africa during
much of the 1960s, I had never heard Daniel Ellsberg, Joanna
Macy, Ram Dass or Sachadananda speak. When we arrived at the
opening session, all the stars were on stage. Then this
incredibly beautiful little man dressed in orange, with a gorgeous
orange turban, went up to the podium, and chanted in Sanskrit.
With a wave of his hand, suddenly there were flames coming up
from a bowl. I thought, "Wow, what was that? Wouldnít it be
neat to meet him? But that wonít happen in this crowd." Moments
later, I went out to get a drink of water in the hallway, and
ran into a friend I hadnít seen in five years. When I asked
him what he was doing there, he said he was traveling with Dr.
Mishra. "Who is Dr. Mishra?" I said. "You know," he replied.
"He just did the fires up on the stage." I said, "Oh, I was
thinking it would be neat to meet him." My friend said, "You
can; Heís standing right behind you." That meeting profoundly
changed my life.
Dr. Mishra was a world-renowned doctor
who had a phenomenal following because of his high cure rate.
He taught that, although he could cut out whatever had manifested
physically, holistic yoga practices could get to the root cause
of disease and encourage permanent healing. When I went to his
ashram, I was taken to his beautiful private residence. I walked
in and put my hand out thinking he was going to shake it. Instead
he put his hand on my head. My head felt as if it were bing
split in two. I saw an electric-blue bolt of lightening and
went into a bliss state for an eternal moment. After that experience,
I studied with Dr. Mishra for over twelve years.
As a child I had been so traumatized
that I felt I constantly had to hold onto the inner wall encasing
my trauma. I was not fully using my faculties. Working and studying
with Dr. Mishra in the traditional way--reading, writing, analyzing
and fully experiencing--I started to see things in new ways.
My left and right brain hemispheres came into balance. Over
the years I would go study with him and then return to the world
to assimilate my learning. By 1992, when Dr. Mishra gave me
my name, Nadananda, I had changed completely from the person
who had left Mendocino in 1982.
In the early nineties, when books such as When God Was
a Woman, The Descent of Woman and The Great
Cosmic Mother were coming out, I began doing full-moon
womenís groups and rituals in Marin. I had an incredible thirst
for knowledge of the Great Cosmic Mother. Then during one
of the last meditations with Dr Mishra, I stayed aware of
everything going on in the room, but was totally detached
from it. At the end of the session, I heard him connect us
to the Great Cosmic Mother and became totally electrified.
Not long after that, I was sitting
on my boat in Sausalito and experienced an intense thirst.
As I walked across to the galley, I crossed an area of the
floor where the energy was particularly intense--a place where
the floor was at the same level as the water. As I got there,
I felt as if I had been hit from behind. My knees buckled,
and I started to fall on the floor. As my arm caught the edge
of the couch, I put my face down into my arm and felt an intense
longing to see my motherís face. I thought, "If I could just
get an image of my mother." (I had been kidnapped from her
when I was seven and never got to see her again. Iíve seen
pictures, but I donít have my own inner image of her.)
The next thing I knew, I was nuzzling a newborn babyís face.
Looking closer, I realized it was my mother nuzzling my face.
As I looked to see her, all I could see was moss . . . then
moss on rock, then rocks and pebbles and a creek bed; then
the sides of a riverbank and the trees, and then bigger trees.
I felt as if I were being lifted up. I moved into a meadow
with wild- flowers. The wind was blowing through the grasses
in huge waves. It was exhilarating. Then I was in the woods
again, which became deeper woods; then I was going up hillsides.
The hillsides became more rugged, with fewer trees and more
rock; then I was on ridgetops; then blue sky. There was a
light-blue clearing, and then deep black-blue skies full of
stars. I was whipping past stars and whole constellations.
The sense of expansion became so great, I thought I was going
to explode! Suddenly I realized I was feeling all the edges
of myself, and you donít feel the edges of yourself unless
somethingís holding you. I realized it was the Great Cosmic
Mother holding me. Suddenly I was back in the boat again.
My first thoughts were, "I could never tell anybody this!"
Then, "Oh, I must tell. I must keep it alive." But what did
it mean? I didnít care. I just wanted to be with it.
Right after that experience on the boat, I went up to my first
womenís gathering at Heartwood, near Garberville on the main
stem of the Eel River. That area reminded me of the big-country
views of Montana, Texas or Australia, with big, open skies.
It was extraordinary to see the undulations of the Earth,
the mysterious valleys, and all the shapes and colors. Up
on the Eel River watershed in March, it rained daily, so everything
was vibrating with that chartreuse-green of new growth. The
Earth was visually electric. You could see it vibrating. The
air was full of fragrances and freshness. I kept having the
sense that I was back in the Garden of Eden, and that I was
one of Eveís motherís other daughters! What an incredible
shift in consciousness! The Garden of Eden was real. After
a very short period of time, I moved to that area Of Humboldt
I spent about a year living in very isolated places, doing
a lot of meditation and contemplation. I played Tibetan bells
and bowls and spent hours and days by myself without seeing
any other people. In one place, the folds of the earth were
such that two creeks came together and went off as one. The
landscape formed an ear-shaped bowl, and you could hear the
sounds of the bells and bowls change as the light shifted
in relationship to the bottom of the valley. As the shadows
came, the sounds seemed to travel with them up the sides of
the valley. This would reverse in the morning. When I played
bells and bowls that were tuned to each other, the sound went
from a "whrrrr" to suddenly not being in the bowl anymore.
It transfered to the middle of the circle and I could hear
where the sound waves crisscross. This is the sound of the
universal energy--like a million crickets in the countryside
On the fall equinox of 1994, I was doing a sweatlodge with
some friends at a campground called Ravencliff on the south
fork of the Eel. It was the site of an ancient Indian village.
We were chanting and playing drums by some deep swimming holes.
A few nights before, I had heard a man from Fish and Game
say, "The Eel River is dead." Recalling this, I felt myself
caught in a deep body sob and wanted to scream, "What do you
mean, the Eel River is dead?" I thought, "Thereís water flowing:
I can see fish in there; there are no toxic chemicals in the
water; itís not on fire." What did this mean?
I immediately started a study group.
The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in
Garberville gave me a desk and a telephone, and let me start
making calls to try to find out what this so-called "dead
river" idea was all about. Our first study-group meeting was
astonishing. People came from all over the watershed, including
a tribesperson from Covelo and people from as far away as
McKinleyville. A lot of them were agency people from Fish
I think it was the tribesperson from
Covelo who brought up the Potter Valley Project. As he started
to speak, an agency person cut him short and said, "If you
folks are going to sit here and talk about the Potter Valley
Project, then Iím out of here, because itís a waste of time
to deal with anything on the Eel River south of Dos Rios."
I thought that was an extraordinary statement. I wondered,
"Why should the river not be talked about south of Dos Rios?"
(Dos Rios is the point of confluence of the main stem and
the middle fork.) We agreed not to talk about it so that we
could continue the discussion, but after the meeting everyone
turned to each other and said, "Whatís the Potter Valley Project?"
Our Indian brother was still there, and he gave us an earful,
so we decided to look into it more.
We began learning about the fate
of the Eel River at Potter Valley and also that a window of
opportunity was opening up. We had a chance to influence the
policies that were damaging the river.
At this point, I was as naïve
and ignorant as could be. It just seemed to me that something
here was not right, and that I had to stand up and ask questions.
After all, it was now my generationís turn.
The following June, at the Blue Sky Swimming Club at Alderpoint
(a part of the river that the local community bought to keep
as a swimming hole), several of us met to form the first Board
of Directors of Friends of the Eel River.
I had a full-time job, so the first couple
of years I financed most of our work out of my own pocket.
I went to meetings, did studies, read reports and became educated.
All of this felt guided: what I needed came to me. At first
I thought, "Iíll do the research and organize things; then
someone else whoís more knowledgeable will come in and take
over." But no one else ever came to lead us. People began
encouraging me, coming to meetings and giving money to help
with expenses. In this last year, Iíve been surprised at my
ferocity in protecting the organization. As long as I continue
on this planet, my prayer is that my life be of use, that
"Thy will be done."
The watershed is our life-support system. The watershed is
where the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe
come from. The water runs not just down the slopes on the
surface, but through all the things that absorb it, like the
trees. It runs down their trunks and drips off their leaves.
The redwoods condense the fog into drops of water, like dew
collects on plastic. The oaks suck water out of the Earth
and fill their limbs--so that they sometimes explode or fall
off from the heaviness. A mutual interaction goes on--of channeling,
distribution and recycling water.
If you look at hills that have been
stripped of trees, you can see the shape of the watershed,
with its ridges and folds. Imagine the water hitting those,
and youíll see how it comes down and where it collects.
of the watershed is its subterranean base, its geomorphology.
On the Eel River, the base is mostly not solid. It is a kind
of "tectonic toothpaste." Some of the dams in our region--such
as Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam--are built on earthquake faults,
and there is danger of slipping. No one knows how far theyíd
have to dig to create a solid anchor or foothold. Isnít that
extraordinary? One does wonder about the education of the
engineers who build these dams. I think theyíre just boys
playing with tinker toys.
When politicians talk about how we
have lost almost all our natural fisheries, every manner of
reason is given: "Itís all those seals at the mouth of the
rivers; we must get permission from Fish and Game to go and
shoot them all." Or, "Itís the ocean conditions. Everyone
knows that." Or, "Logging has destroyed the streams." The
truth is that the problem stems from a combination of things.
But, most importantly, if you build a dam that cuts off the
spawning grounds--the nursery, the place where the next generation
will come from--you arenít going to have fish.
Is it too hard to understand that
the 1,400 dams in California impact the fisheries? Some people
say, "Donít talk about dams. Thatís too big. What are you
going to do, take on the Army Corps of Engineers? Or big money?"
Dams are a major problem worldwide. Theyíve gotten bigger
and bigger, and have displaced millions of people.
Fish and Game now says the Eel River isnít dead, but is in
a very fragile condition. This is true. It used to be the
third-largest producer of Coho and Chinook salmon in the state
(the Sacramento River system, the Klamath, and then the Eel)
and the second-largest producer of all salmon (Coho, Chinook
The Eel River system is the third-largest
watershed in the state of California. It travels over 200
air miles, and its fish climb 4,500 feet. It has a wild and
scenic designation both state and national. Whereas the Russian
River is one river with small tributaries, the Eel includes
five major river systems: the main stem, the middle fork,
the north fork, the Van Dusen River and the south fork. These
carry lots and lots of water. The dam at Potter Valley has
so impacted the entire system because it is located at the
headwaters of the main stem.
In 1908, the Cape Horn Dam was completed,
along with a mile-long tunnel that drops 400 feet in elevation
into Potter Valley and diverts water from the Eel to the Russian
River. Building that tunnel was quite a feat, as the workers
had to dig through hard rock. The Chinese were being kicked
out of the gold fields and were going back to San Francisco,
so it was easy to gather them and bring them up to do the
labor. There are horror stories about what happened to them
The Cape Horn Dam was good for Ukiah
because it provided hydroelectric power--a cleaner way of
making electricity than the coal-operated generators it replaced.
If water were put back into the Eel River and the spawning
grounds above the dam were not cut off, the dam could provide
a very healthy way to get electricity. We wouldnít need nuclear
energy, we wouldnít need the coal, and we wouldnít be using
Cape Horn Dam was so successful that
Mr. Van Arsdale floated a personal loan to build Scott Dam,
twenty miles upstream, which is much bigger. By putting this
dam at the narrowest point of the river, Lake Pillsbury was
created. Its only purpose is to generate hydropower--itís
not for flood control or drinking water. These days, it produces
9.6 megawatts for six to eight months of the year, and only
four megawatts the rest of the time. New, environmentally
sound techniques of power generation could replace it.
PG&E has contracted with the California State Water Resources
Board for 120,000 acre-feet of water to be taken from the
headwaters of the Eel. Since the headwaters produce an average
of 400,000 acre-feet per year, and since PG&E actually
takes an average of 181,000 acre-feet, they remove almost
half of all the water from the area.
Furthermore, during the hot summer months, PG&E reduces
the flows into the Eel River to five cubic feet per second.
From 1968 to 1983, they were going through re-licensing while
battling requests to increase the flows from two cubic feet
per second to five! They went from leaving one wet spot to
having a little bigger wet spot.
A ten-year study was supposed to
determine whether this increase would make any difference
in fish populations. Starting with the premise that it wouldnít
make any difference, guess what? Thatís what they found. It
took sixteen years to complete the study and hand it over
to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The amount
of water flow needed for Eel River fisheries was the major
negotiation point, and one that could not be agreed upon--so
PG&E was given a license with all provisions except for
the needs of the fisheries.
In analyzing water flows, the "authorities" donít take into
account the needs of the wildlife and the other life forms
dependent on the river. They say, "We do not want water wasting
into the sea." This notion of water "wasting" to the sea is
a public-relations campaign by the Southern California water
barons who want justification for taking all the water they
can from up north! The water has a job to do! Itís not only
for the fish and all the animals that eat the fish and spread
the nutrients upslope; it also provides the "thalwag"--the
energy force that moves the river in spirals and meanders.
The arrogance of trying to channel and contain a life force
by creating dams interferes with the way the energy flows
and moves in the river.
Timing is also important. The Eel
River can be very flashy--with thousands of cubic feet per
second roaring down the canyons--or it can be just a dribble.
PG&E could not control the river until it was down to
a certain flow. As soon as they could get control of it, they
were taking it all--until some people with a ranch downstream
went to Sacramento and fought to get two cubic feet per second.
That ranch, now owned by Dana Crumb, has kept a toehold open
for the Eel. That dribble of life has kept the river flowing.
Historically, in California whoever had
the water highest up had control of it, and whoever had it
first could take as much as they wanted. For years, thatís
what the people who were mining in Plumas and Placer counties
were doing; the ones farthest upstream took all the water.
In hosing water onto the mountainsides--washing them down
to get gold (hydropower mining)--they were completely destroying
the river system all the way to the San Francisco Bay. The
bay is still receiving silt from those days. Thatís what Hurwitz
and Pacific Lumber are doing up in Humboldt County--stripping
the hillsides and waiting for the rains to come. When we have
incredible deluges in the winter, everything slides right
into the river.
After I spoke at a meeting of the California State Water Resources
Board at the beginning of this struggle, an attorney came
up to me and said that we could win a fight for the river
based on violations of public trust alone. The history and
the documentation were clear. I was stoked to have this
information, so we started organizing But since PG&E had
not completed their ten-year study, no suits could be brought
or enforced at that time.
The study that finally came out in March 1998
was terribly inadequate. Since it didnít cover all the required
parameters, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
staff recommended that PG&E do an environmental-impact
study on the increased flows for new compliances, and determine
what the fisheries needed. There had been an enormous crash
in the fisheries during the sixteen-year period it took to
produce the report. The National Marine Fishery Service has
put Coho and Chinook on the list of endangered species and
is considering listing steelhead, too.
The environmental-impact study opened up the process to new
players--both intercediaries and interveners. An intercediary
is someone who sits in the room and listens to the negotiations
but canít say anything. An intervener can contribute to the
dialogue. With the help of Bob Biacchi, who wrote our comments
and intervener papers, Friends of the Eel River launched into
a battle to restore the river. We asked that the tunnel be
closed down, the dams dismantled, the spawning grounds restored,
and the water returned to the Eel River. Billions of dollars
have been lost to the economies of both Mendocino and Humboldt
counties because of losses in the fisheries. There is also
an incredible dollar loss in sportsfishing, which filters
immediately into the community. People coming for sportsfishing
buy tackle at the local store, gas up at the gas station,
stay in the local motels and eat at restaurants. When they
donít come, this creates a significant economic loss.
Wherever we have stopped doing bad things to Nature, she rebounds and
heals herself. Thatís still possible for the Eel River. Many
people in Mendocino and Humboldt counties never lived here
as children. They have no idea how to help the river, but
they want to learn and have been flocking to workshops. Many
people in the Eel River watershed have been banding together
to learn about how to build willow walls, regrade the roads,
and replace culverts. Theyíve walked the roads and have written
for grants for SB271 funding.
In Laytonville, Evan Engbert and
a woman named "Goose" have been doing restoration using bioengineering
techniques. They noticed that the streams on their land were
having problems, so they followed some guidelines in a book
they found, written in the thirties by a Swiss man who was
doing restoration work here. Along with a trained team of
workers, they have been "growing" banks of soil and rebuilding
the willow walls along the river. The soil and debris flowing
in the water hits the willow and drops. (After the 1964 flood,
a bureaucrat in Washington decided that the flooding on the
Eel River was primarily due to too many willows in the river.
So they tried to clean them out of the river system, and took
the woody debris right out. Now we need to replace it all!)
What would happen if the dams came down? How does one best
remove a dam? Two big dams on the Elwah River in Washington
are coming down. That project has been quite helpful, because
government agencies have done extensive studies on all the
how-tos as well as on how this would impact the local economy.
Scott Dam, an earthbound dam, could
easily be brought down in tiers. As the water level lowered,
the dam could be dismantled and the exposed areas replanted.
Lake Pillsbury, which is more than 20 percent filled with
silt-rich topsoil, could become an international experiment
on how to bring a system down, replant it, and let the wildlife
come back to regenerate an area. By replicating this local
action, we have a great opportunity for a global impact. Bringing
dams down here would help stop dams from being built in other
places. Around the world, people say, "What they do in America
must be good."
Cape Horn Dam, which is quite small,
is also filled with silt and could be planted to hold the
soil as well. Restoring the Eel River watershed presents a
phenomenal job potential. Many people, who donít want to live
in the Silicon Valleys of California and hold vacuous jobs,
would love to be paid decent wages to do restoration work
and live more simply on the land. Thatís a possible future.
Thereís no reason we canít bring the watersheds back. In the
meantime, increasing the water flow should give us time to
replant the riparian zones, the areas all along the edge of
the river, as theyíre doing at the Hog Farm in Laytonville.
The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) has been trying to make
a move that would lock down the Eel River water forever. Friends
of the Eel River (FOER) is suing them, and in going through
the discovery papers of the suit, we found studies showing
that the foundation of the Cape Horn Dam is shaky. Four locations
are being considered for building a new dam. SCWA wants to
replace Cape Horn (which is less than fifty feet high) with
a 160-foot dam. Does it feel safe to have the Sonoma County
Water Agency take this system over? Politicians have sold
the Mendocino water downstream before. Will we let that happen
California water brokers have already
taken the Sacramento and other Sierra rivers, and you bet
they want the Eel River. They want all the water of the Eel
River. There are three major dams planned by the Army Corps
of Engineers for the Eel River. We beat them once at Dos Rios.
They were also beaten back at English Ridge; but that doesnít
mean theyíre not going to come back and try to get the water.
Agency dam plans never die.
If SCWA is successful in taking over
the PG&E Potter Valley Project, we will not get the mitigation
needed for the fish. To really bring the fisheries back, we
have to give the fish a place to spawn! The river is too hot,
denuded of shade, too broad and too shallow. If the dams are
taken down, the water allowed to run its natural course, and
the upslopes attended to, nature will rebound.
When trying to get jobs done, I pray and meditate a lot. I
try to be impeccably honest and to allow what is needed to
channel through me. We must empower each other by speaking
up. We must protect the river and simply take a stand. What
is happening is not right. We must say, "This is our environment,
our water, our air. Itís our food chain and our habitat."
How many mutated fish do you want to eat? The second-generation
hatchery fish are sick and strange looking. Their cellular
structure is changing. Is that what you want to eat?
I agreed to take on this fight because
I felt there was the opportunity to educate people. Friends
of the Eel River holds workshops and has been publishing the
Eel River Register for two years now. Education is
our main role. If we donít educate the people, they will never
change their lifestyle. This change is not like giving candy
up for lent; itís more serious than that. Itís a change in
what we do moment to moment and day by day. What are we buying?
What are we eating? What packaging does our food come in and
what are we doing with that?
Refugia is a word we need to become
familiar with and use: refugia means the refuge--the
place of protection. We want to promote that image. Weíre
not trying to hurt Potter Valley or the Russian River; we
just want to bring the Eel River system back into its natural
state of balance, and create a refugia for the next
generation of fish for following generations of people to
Nadananda and Friends of the Eel River
can be contacted by writing PO Box 2305, Redway, CA 95560
or by calling (707) 923-2146.