Author of How Dams Fall
Will Falk is a biophilic essayist, poet, and lawyer. The natural world speaks, but rarely in English. Wind and water, soil and stone, fin, fur, and feather are only a few dialects. Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the intensifying destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today and he aims his writing at stopping this destruction. His writing has been published by Earth Island Journal, the Dark Mountain Project, CounterPunch, Whole Terrain, and the San Diego Free Press, among others.
Visit him at willfalk.org.
How Dams Fall: On Representing the Colorado River in the First-ever
American Lawsuit Seeking Rights for a Major Ecosystem
Paperback | Size: 4 x 6 | Length: 80 pgs | | List Price: 12.95
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“The Colorado River speaks,” Will Falk insists in How Dams Fall. Written while Falk was involved in the first-ever American federal lawsuit seeking personhood and rights of nature for a major ecosystem, the Colorado River, this essay, at once lyrical and analytical, explores the American cultural, and his personal, relationship with one of the world’s most famous―and most misunderstood―rivers. Responsible for speaking on the Colorado’s behalf in court, Falk spent weeks traveling with the river asking her who she is and what she needs. With brutal honesty and an unflinching commitment to witnessing the river’s wounds in all their painful detail, How Dams Fall is an intimate conversation between a human and a river. In a time when the Colorado River is at record low levels and water shortages look inevitable, this essay is a must-read for outdoor enthusiasts, naturalists, water advocates, and anyone who has ever fallen in love with the natural world.
“Will Falk’s book on the Colorado River is heartfelt, poetic, enthralling, and also a desperate plea for help (for the river, not the author). Like Thoreau, Leopold, and Kingsolver, Falk has learned to listen to Nature’s myriad voices, translating the ensuing wisdom into words that should inspire readers to rethink their relationship with the planet that gives us life.”
–David R. Boyd author of nine books including The Rights of Nature
“If the Colorado River were to take on human manifestation, it would have written this book. How Dams Fall is beautiful, lyrical, honest, loving, and angry. It is a necessary book. Read it. Absorb it. Then go to a river—any river—and listen to what the river needs. Help the dams to fall and the rivers to live.”
–Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older Than Words
Read the first pages
The Colorado River speaks for herself.
That’s why I was uncomfortable speaking for her in the first-ever federal lawsuit seeking personhood and rights of nature for a major ecosystem, Colorado River v. Colorado. When I agreed to serve as “next friend” or guardian of the river in court, I knew the Albert A. Arraj Federal Courthouse was miles away from the river and well beyond hearing distance. So, in the weeks before the first scheduled hearing in the case, I left on a 4,000-mile journey to ask the Colorado River what she needs with my friend, the brilliant photographer, Michelle McCarron.
Human language lacks the complexity, the subtlety, and the breadth to adequately describe her. The reality of human mortality and the geologic brevity of our species’ collective experience restricts any attempt to convey a complete understanding of her into exercises in arbitrariness. Her story is much too long and complex for human ears. I could listen for generations and never fully comprehend even a chapter in her tale. But, because no one is more responsible for the facilitation of life—human and non-human—in the arid American Southwest than the Colorado River, I will try to describe her anyway. Our lawsuit was dismissed before I was able to bring her stories into the courtroom and I feel compelled to share what I’ve heard.
Yes, the Colorado River speaks. She speaks a language of life. Water is one of life’s original vernaculars and the Colorado River speaks an ancient dialect. Snowpack murmurs in the melting sun. Rare desert rain drops off willow branches to ring across lazy pools. Streams, running over dappled stones, sing treble while distant falls take the bass.
In Spring, she teaches strength and rushes against legs attempting to cross her. In Summer, she offers refreshment and licks salt from skin. In Fall, she whispers medicine and her frigid kiss relieves soreness. In Winter, she rings with icy bells and mesmerizes those who know it’s better to look than to touch.
She composes 60% of each of the forty million human bodies who rely on her for drinking water. She regulates our temperature, becomes blood, and spreads nourishment through our bodies. We could not speak without her. Our lips would crack, our tongues would bleed, and we would fall silent.
If you give her your time and a sincere desire to listen, she may reward you with experiences of poetry, of beauty, of surreal juxtapositions that point the way to wisdom. She may even wash away the horrors springing from indoctrination in a culture hallucinating human supremacy.
At least, that’s what she did for me.
I joined the lawsuit because I wanted to help the Colorado River. Lawsuits are based in argument. I thought, by traveling with the river, I would discover the best arguments to help her. But, the environmental philosopher John Livingston tells us in The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, “On the basis of some experience in conservation affairs, I am at last persuaded that mere argument as such is entirely worthless…Argument, it seems to me, is never going to help wildlife. It rarely has, and there is little to persuade me that it ever will, appreciably…I believe that wildlife preservation is entirely dependent on individual human experience.”
On the basis of my own experience, I agree with Livingston. Those brave enough to stand on the side of life, in these times of intensifying ecological death, are those who experience a one-ness with the natural world, an enlarged sense of self that includes lemurs, hammerhead sharks, monkey puzzle trees, southwestern willow flycatchers, rainforests, vaquita porpoises, polar bears, glaciers, venus flytraps, and, of course, the Colorado River.
Swim with her and you’ll know consciousness is a flowing river. The limits of our minds form the banks. Time is gravity pulling experience past us. We understand life to the extent we can make sense of the experiences streaming past us. The Colorado River is an expression of life. She, like life, speaks in fluid, shifting patterns, gestures, and themes that must be teased out. I perceive her meaning when I ponder how I have experienced her, when I try to order my experience in a way that makes sense to other humans. I understand her through story, and the act of writing.
I write with the desire to share what I’ve learned. The map is not the territory and words are not the experience. The experience is everything. Regardless, I invite the river to make me an instrument of her voice and I present my best case for the Colorado River as a series of reflections, of slow realizations and sudden epiphanies, as scenes that represent my flow with the river, or the river’s flow over me.
But, you don’t have to listen to me, go listen to the river for yourself. She has much to teach.
Praise for how dams fall
“An intriguing account of a lawyer’s quest to forge a relationship with his new client—the Colorado River. Falk’s empathic engagement with the fullness of the Colorado River as a being, is an intriguing example of how a new breed of wild lawyers are learning to become better advocates for Earth. Reading How Dams Fall is like slipping a beautiful river-smooth stone into your pocket—a reminder of the flowing majesty of the once and future Colorado.”
–Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, Executive Committee Member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and Director of the Wild Law Institute
“Will Falk wrote an epistle for the music of the Colorado River; some songs are hard; some are lamentations and war cries while others are lullabies. Willing conduit, deliberate advocate, and champion of the human spirit, Falk is in full possession of his mighty heart and uses it the way philosopher-poets do, by beginning where nothing is. Language, that house of being, is where beginning is most fecund when it concentrates itself. Because in that fertile reception of voice, through the alchemy of a man asking for a river to speak to him…she does, and there is nothing holier than that. And when she tells you she needs help, you get down on your knees and offer your knuckles and your coliseum heart and hope it will matter.”
–Dominique Christina, author of Is Woman’s Work: Calling Forth Your Inner Council of Wise, Brave, Crazy, Rebellious, Loving, Luminous Selves
“Falk’s lyrical prose is aptly applied in this monograph about a doomed cause in a doomed world. Channeling Edward Abby’s sensitivity and eloquence, Falk explores the lessons of the living Colorado River, its place in the minds of America—resource or ecosystem. The limited view must break to the other. It is a matter of respect, stewardship. Survival. The rightness of the idea is obvious to those who have been there, to those who have seen the river, felt it, been with it. It is an experience that can only be approximated by lyrical prose, love letters to water, regret and frustration. Falk’s book has all of that. A personal essay of triumph and defeat and the dream of falling dams.”
–Johnny Worthen, author of What Immortal Hand
There is a magical, mystical quality to these words, bleak though they are at times. How Dams Fall is a brief and impactful essay that celebrates the Colorado River’s majesty while cautioning human beings against further damaging its beauty and its purpose.