Headed for the river, despite myself

My personal stuff pile, including my new day pack, bought to replace the ratty, thirty-year old canvas one I’ve had since my climbing days….

A tidy pile of outdoor clothing takes up the end of my bed; a pile of camping gear is mounded of the floor next to the bed. There’s a pile of books and writing gear in my office. I’m getting ready to hit the road–and then the river.

Tomorrow I’ll drive to Vernal, six and a half hours away in the northeastern corner of Utah, where I’ll join a Colorado Art Ranch “floatposium”–a float trip with workshops and talks along the way. I’m the resident writer, leading workshops as we go, and reading selections from great writing about the place and its stories.

Friday morning, we’ll put in at Gates of Lodore just downstream of Browns Park. We’ll take out Monday afternoon at Split Mountain, having followed the Green right through the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. (Click on “View park map” in the lefthand column to see the terrain. Click here for some impressive photos of the canyons we’ll float through.)

We’ll spend four days bouncing through rapids and idling in smooth water beneath towering sandstone walls, listening to the voice of the river as it changes from crashing to murmuring and to the sweet descending trills of canyon wrens, camping on river-beaches, smelling the metallic tang of the water and the pungent fragrance of sagebrush, and watching the stars blaze in the blackest of night skies.

The anthology What Wildness is This, from Story Circle Network and University of Texas Press

If it all sounds idyllic, it can be. But as I wrote in “Riding the River Home,” an essay in the anthology What Wildness is This,

I am no river girl. Whitewater terrifies me. Drowning is the worst death I can imagine.

Still, I rode the river then, and I’ll ride it again on this trip. I won’t be the one excited and cheering when the river’s voice changes from a murmur to a hissing rumble and the steady thump! thump! of the boatman’s oars turns to splashing and hollering, but I’ll be okay. What I learned on that river trip still holds true:

As we rode the river into the quiet of the canyons, as I told story after story about that slickrock landscape, I remembered what it is to be at home in a place, to belong in a way that touches your very cells. The river’s lessons were written in the dazzle of stars overhead, the hiss of water, the warmth of silky black schist, the trilling of canyon wrens, the curving shapes of redrock canyon walls, and the metallic taste of my unceasing dread. They reminded me of the connection between place and the human heart, of the necessity of belonging to the whole landscape, to the parts we love and the parts we fear. They reminded me that home is not an abstract concept, but a real and often problematic place. I’ll never be a river girl, and I no longer mind. … In a very real sense, I rode the river home.

The other reason this won’t necessarily be an idyllic trip for me is that my dear friend Carol Valera Jacobson, writer, bookstore owner, teacher, gardener, passionate liver of life, drowned in Triplet Falls in Lodore Canyon on the Green three summers ago. We’ll be camping by Triplet one night. Carol’s husband, Craig mayor Terry Carwile, will be with us.

It seems as if my lesson these days is letting go, and doing so with grace. I’m working on it.


How could you not fall for a face like that?

My other lesson is being flexible, and adapting to change. One of the changes in my life after Richard, on this new and unlooked-for path as Woman Alone involves another male. This one is four-footed though.

I’ve applied to adopt a rescued Great Dane. The one I’m considering is 5 years old, and a blue-eyed Merle Mantle (blue merle with white feet, a white nose, and a white chest) He’s got some medical issues, but he sounds like a real gentleman and a sweetheart. I don’t know yet if I can afford his care, or if he’s the dog for me. But I’m keeping my mind open.

Why would I want to add 135 pounds of dog to my life? That’s for another post. I’ll be offline until next week, once I return from the river….