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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.
Praise for How Dams Fall
“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
“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
“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
“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 agreed to act as a guardian to the Colorado River in federal court. Taking his responsibilities seriously, he made a 4,000 mile journey to listen to the river. How Dams Fall is his report back. It’s a piercing elegy of terrible grief, a catalog of continental exploitation and extraction. Along the way, Falk follows his own despair, refusing the cheap relief of false hope. In its place, Falk gives us something rare and true: his love for the river, an unwavering covenant that we all must enter if we are to save this planet. Let How Dams Fall help carry us forward until the day when all dams fall and the waters are free again.”
–Lierre Keith, author of Deep Green Resistance
“How Dams Fall takes us to places where “human self-importance disintegrates,” where the living world speaks to those willing to listen. With the dancing eloquence of a poet and fierce heart of a warrior, Will Falk will make you fall in love, break your heart, and sew it together again. You will not be the same after reading this.”
–Max Wilbert, author of Bright Green Lies
“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, 2012 Women of the World Slam Champion author of This Is Woman’s Work: Calling Forth Your Inner Council of Wise, Brave, Crazy, Rebellious, Loving, Luminous Selves
“How Dams Fall is an act of witness, of attempted reparation through words, an attempt perhaps doomed to fail, just as the lawsuit undertaken in the river’s defense did. So, why write? “Water is one of life’s original vernaculars,” Falk reminds us, a language that is ignored by humans as the Colorado river is enslaved, invaded for commercial gain, grievously wounded by dams, reservoirs, clearcutting, climate change, and pollution. An entire eco-system of plant and piscine species hangs in the balance. Falk seeks to recover the river’s “ancient dialect,” to embrace with empathy her many poignant stories, her lessons of strength, healing, and stern warning. Through lyrical prose that is far away from the language of the courts, the author explores the history and biodiversity of the river, connecting them to the native cultures flourishing and perishing alongside. At the heart of the book is a plea to humanity to listen to the river, to feel her pain, and learn, for that is how dams can fall.”
–Dr. Akhila Ramnarayan, author of Krishna Bharatam
Will Falk’s touching ode to a major ecosystem How Dams Fall personifies the Colorado River.
This essay-length book has a big goal: to dramatize the plight of the Colorado River in its fight against human intervention. Falk, who brought the first federal lawsuit against a state on behalf of a river, veers away from discussing the case itself, instead imagining a conversation with the river: “She, like life, speaks in fluid, shifting patterns, gestures, and themes that must be teased out.”
The poignant story the river tells is one of enslavement by the Grand Valley Diversion Dam. Falk ponders the manner in which the Colorado River is manipulated by humans, considering the broader implications of slavery. He lyrically wonders whether “the end of human slavery led to an intensification of the enslavement of the natural world.” He describes how he visits the river, hears her speak, and shares her fears, empowering him to write and to pursue a legal case on her behalf.
In Falk’s view, the Colorado River is an ecological symbol. “Each generation accepts a more impoverished planet,” observes Falk. “Not only are species being destroyed at an accelerating pace, but the humans causing the destruction don’t even remember who they’ve destroyed.” These are strong words anchored in a harsh reality. The book’s fervent hope—and guarded optimism—lies in the permanence of the force of nature: “No dam can stand against the power of the Colorado River forever.”
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.
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.
You can follow Will’s work at willfalk.org.