Gradually dim horizontal stripes illuminated the wall behind me. My hand moved up the canyon wall and as it did the grit beneath my fingers became smooth. The lines of light rested on my hand, and the heavy-duty waterproof tube beneath my feet began to feel soft and fuzzy. I could hear the faint sound of an engine approaching as the light intensified. I turned to look at the source of the light and began to see the familiar angles of my bedroom window, the framed photo of Jonah on my dresser, and the wool Pendleton blanket beneath my feet. A car sped by outside, the light disappeared, and I found myself alone, crouched on the edge of my bed feeling completely disoriented.
In the morning the feeling lingered. I couldn't help but wonder why my subconscious mind remained on the river. Jordan and I just returned from a 10-day commercial river trip working as unpaid crew through the Grand Canyon. It was majestic and exciting. But I have never spent a vacation working so hard. Each day we woke up at 5:00 am as the night sky faded into dawn. We made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 people amid blowing sand and blazing heat. We cleaned dishes and moved the groover (toilet). Twice a day we loaded and unloaded cots, chairs, bags, tables, and dutch ovens. We baked in the sun and watched our fingers turn to prunes after hours of torrential rain. We held tight through 8 days of rapids and felt our skin harden and peel in the dry heat of the canyon. We fell asleep each night, creating makeshift beds across the hard metal frames of the raft. On our final day as we motored off the river towards Lake Mead my body was ready to come home. My muscles ached, and my face was ravaged, but my heart and mind could have stayed much longer.
I recognize now that the river provided a much needed escape from my daily struggles. A place where few people knew my story and my heartache; where I could remain anonymous amongst the rapids. A place where I could lay in solitude beneath endless layers of stars and satellites and simply contemplate their beauty until sleep took precedence. A place where doctors appointments and life's trials faded behind more basic needs like food and shelter and safety. I found as I immersed myself in the canyon I was forced into the present moment. My thoughts stayed in the stretch of river that laid before me, with no anticipation of what would come around each bend. I lost any sense of time or sequence or obligation. I surrendered to the experience, disconnected, and let the river carry me. It felt like the purest form of freedom. A freedom that is not easily forgotten or abandoned.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.