River Medicine and the Unexpected Magic of Unplugging
Surrendering to the flow, embracing uncertainty, and more lessons from a grown-ass woman's first river trip in decades
Life is but a dream
~Children’s Nursery Rhyme
I’ve missed you. But I’m not gonna lie, the extra time I spent away from my computer screen this week has been blissful. I can’t remember the last time I felt so thoroughly blissed out.
But it’s not because I took a break from blogging — I meant it when I said I missed you. My mind begins to feel overcrowded when I go too long without writing.
Last week, I did something scary (for me). I went rafting for the first time since I was a wee Girl Scout — something like 25 to 30 years ago?
Except it turned out to be so much more than a river trip.
It was a long-overdue reunion with the forces of nature you never meet inside your comfort zone, no matter how many mushrooms you eat.
It was rediscovering my small-yet-powerful place in the support system of the infinite greatness we’re all simultaneously part of and surrounded by.
It was surrendering control.
Finding stillness in perpetual flow.
It was all that and a bowl of cherries.
It was also the first time Jason and I got off the farm together for a full 24 hours since we moved to Maine over 3 years ago.
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Nothing about the trip went according to plan. This started when the couple who was supposed to drive went radio silent the day before we left and never showed up that morning. (They’re fine. Everyone’s fine.)
Then, there was the logging road Google Maps took us down even though it was clearly not suitable for passenger vehicles. Despite this, we made it safely to the outpost, only to find the rafting company short on staff and unable to drive us to the put-in.
Part of me wanted to be annoyed about this. Instead, I embraced the moment. It was a beautiful day, and standing on the side of a small-town road waiting to hitch a ride wasn’t the worst way to pass the time.
We didn’t have to wait long, either. Next thing I knew, I was crammed into the back seat of a very lived-in pickup truck, basically sitting on the lap of Jason’s long-time kayaking buddy, Adam — a person I’d probably exchanged less than 100 words with at that point — while my husband rode shotgun.
Then we got on the river and learned the hard way that the oars were not tied down to the little doohickeys that oars rest in. I think they’re called oarlocks.
This information became apparent when the oars popped out, repeatedly, in the first set of rapids.
And we had no paddles.
(If you’re unsure of the difference between an oar and a paddle, you’re not alone. Google it.)
During a brief moment of calm between the first and second rapids, Jason decided it was Adam’s turn to sit in the Captain’s seat. They switched places, oars swinging precariously to and fro, and, all the while, the raft kept moving closer to a section of whitewater I very much did not want to pass through.
I crouched down, held on for dear life, and did my best not to cry.
Looking through photos taken at what I would call “the worst” sections, my face is indeed twisted up in the unmistakable expression of a grown woman about to burst into tears.
Alas, I did not die on the Kennebec River that day.
After that second set, things mellowed out so hard that I actually let go of the rope I had been clinging to. I let go of a lot of things.
Jason tied down the oars, which helped a ton.
We camped at Lake Moxie that night, a peaceful body of water surrounded by zero cell service. Sun-kissed and sleepy, we spent hours sitting in camp chairs gazing out at the lake. We watched a loon dive for its dinner, then show off in hopes of attracting a mate.
Living on a farm surrounded by forest, I’m no stranger to witnessing wildlife. I know most animals spend their days working to eat, get laid, and protect their young. They don’t worry about paying taxes, how they look in their clothes, or what their ex is up to.
At least, I’m pretty sure they don’t. I could be wrong.
Sitting by the pond that day was the first time in years I felt like I was part of the wild world. I used to feel it all the time — when I re-entered civilization after spending 5 to 15 hours running through the woods. I’d walk into a gas station for a soda covered in dirt, sweat, and, possibly, blood. Everyone would stop and stare, regarding me with a, “Who let that animal in here?” look in their eyes.
This dichotomy kept me balanced.
I haven’t run much these past few years. Part of it was a nagging foot injury. But the much larger and more complicated part — the one I don’t really talk about — is that I’d forgotten why I started running in the first place. Forgotten why I loved it.
The joyful abandon of communing with nature and the humbling excitement of self-propelled adventure-seeking gave way to an unhealthy obsession with statistics and pressure to get enough photos to my sponsor. All minor, unnecessary things that only distract from the point of just getting out there and feeling alive.
In Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkman writes:
“The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is just to stop expecting things to be otherwise — to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.”
Last week, the river released something in me that had been stuck for a very long time.
I know I’m not the only one who felt it. Jason sat peacefully beside me nearly the entire time. If you’ve ever met my husband, you know he’s not one to sit still.
Whatever medicine the river dished out that day was for all of us. There’s only so much a human can do to stitch together their own heart. At some point, you have to hand it over to a power much greater than yourself, trusting that the more broken and wounded you are, the more love and sweetness will be available to you.
It’s available to you, too.
I haven’t felt the same since returning from that trip. I haven’t felt the need to set my jaw and power through my life. I’ve been allowing myself to expand into the space I wrote about several weeks ago. I’ve been savoring my morning coffee in silence with my dog on my lap instead of taking sips between journal pages or chores. I’ve been staring at the trees and letting tears roll down my cheeks without trying to pick apart exactly what I’m crying about. I simply trust that whatever’s driving those tears is ready to come out.
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
~ Fight Club
Thank you so much for reading, and thanks for all the birthday wishes and responses to my last post. I’m eternally grateful for you and the time you spend here with me.
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