The Music of the Bear River

Listening to the music made by a river can be one of the most soothing and rewarding sounds. With so much going on in the world, sometimes it is important to sit back and enjoy the simpler things.

Bear River in Colfax, CA | Photo: Stephanie Curin

This guest post, from Stephanie Curin, is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series spotlighting the Bear River.

Every visit to the Bear River is precious because that’s when you get to hear the music of the river.

No sound on earth compares to the soothing rush of water as it travels over stones, through willows, and around each river bend. There is a timeless quality about a river that whispers of the past, talks into the present and gives hope for the future.

As one of the Most Endangered Rivers of 2017, the Bear River needs us to listen to its calls.Click To Tweet

Recently, when walking along a path next to the river, I was keenly aware of the changing volumes of the rushing water. Sometimes it was a quiet, gentle flow, then a few steps further on the river gathered speed as the rapids loudly crashed over rocks and branches in its path. Next was a place where the water moved forward at a steady pace, sounding like a constant wind coursing through the waters.

Often our lives parallel with the flow of a river. We go through peaceful times when everything is smooth and hushed, then suddenly a storm comes along and we’re tossed about in the turbulence of our circumstances. All seems loud and the calm is drowned out. Then there are days we move steadily forward, one wave at a time, through the ongoing routine of daily existence. These wonderful sounds of the river give clarity and reassurance as they echo our daily walk through life.

Pondering the waters of the Bear River. | Photo: Stephanie Curin
Pondering the waters of the Bear River. | Photo: Stephanie Curin

Another beautiful sound of the river is the tumble of rocks under the water, as they move from one place to another. I first heard this as a child when our family camped along the banks of a small river in Idaho. After a full day of playing in the river, we gathered around the campfire telling stories and gazing into the flames. When it got pitch dark, and the night was bright with stars, the grown-ups shuffled us kids off to bed. The distant rise and fall of adult voices were barely audible, as the tales became more interesting and the fire crackled as the moon rose in the sky. It was difficult going to sleep. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag straining to hear more of their stories.

But after a while, the river music began. First, it was an incessant hum. The more I listened, the more varied it became as it muffled the other sounds of the night. The swift current ebbed and flowed into the deep rumbling of stones turning over in the waters of the river bed. It reminded me of my father’s voice, low and calm, gentle and deep. Soon the river music lulled me peacefully to sleep. A sound from childhood I have never forgotten. You must be very still and quiet to hear the murmur of rocks tumbling in a river.

River music is an irreplaceable sound that is worthy of being treasured and preserved. It speaks volumes as it calms the soul. Whatever my mood is— happy, sad, restless or fretful— the river gives me peace, a deep down sense that all is well as the water moves constantly forward to the sea. The sound of the river heals, teaches, and renews when we make the time to listen to its low, steady voice.

Help us keep this special river flowing

One of the Bear River’s last free-flowing reaches is threatened by an expensive, damaging and unnecessary new dam. Damming the river is a 19th-century solution to the 21st-century challenge of a changing climate. Tell the Nevada Irrigation District to stop this expensive, risky and unnecessary dam project at the expense of local communities and ecosystems.


Stephanie lives with her family in Colfax, California, near the Bear River recreation area and regularly visits the river to go hiking on its many trails. She is a member of the local garden club and enjoys creating natural plant habitats to support native pollinators and migratory birds. Currently, she is volunteering to raise awareness of the threatened Bear River.

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