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Old 05-22-2009   #21
lhowemt's Avatar
at my house, Montana
Paddling Since: 2020
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 4,347
RAD! May the transition back be smooth. Here's a great story to help you relive, and maybe make the transition less painful (or maybe more, it made me ache to be back). I especially liked the part about the strength from the river, and his body being fully of the colorado's water. From AW's Journal (w/permission)

Welcome home Randy, looking forward to the TR and photos

Conversing With the River
By Don Lago
One of the best things about kayaking the Colorado River is that when your fellow voyagers prove unable to disengage themselves from their normal lives, when they insist upon ignoring the canyon and chatting for hours about sports, Wall Street, computers, or movies, you can drift out of earshot and listen to the river speaking of deeper things.

A kayak offers a wonderful intimacy with the river. You sit inside the river, becoming a river centaur, human from the waist up and a river from there down. Only by thus melding with the river can you fully experience its strength and its beauty.

In my kayak I can easily reach my hands into the river and feel its pulse. I can watch the subtlest swirls on the surface, and see pebble shadows below. I can smell the river’s various scents, especially when the river splashes into my face. Yet my keenest sense for experiencing the river is the boat itself. Since whitewater kayaks are designed to spin easily, my kayak reacts to currents I never even noticed and begins to spin, sometimes just a bit, sometimes until I am pointing back upstream, and then, slowly, with many starts and hesitations, the river spins me to face downstream again, spins me like a compass needle aligning itself with vast invisible forces.

The river is constantly forming swirls large and small, and in these lines of water wiggling like handwriting, the river is telling many stories, if only humans could read the river’s language.
This swirl is saying that the sandbar four feet down has just shifted, opening a momentary vortex in the river, which the river quickly erases, except that now the flow pattern above the sandbar is different than before. And an hour from now, it will be different again. This swirl is part of the vast flowing of sand by which the hourglass canyon counts off the ages. This sand was once part of a thousand mountains and mesas, but they had yielded to the greater strength of water, which was carrying them helplessly away and building small sand mountains in practice for laying in the ocean the sandstone ribs of future mountain ranges. As this swirl tugs very gently on my boat, it is sand, it is melting mountains and mesas, it is the law of entropy and the massive creativity of the earth that is turning me, returning me to the readily forgotten recognition that if mountains cannot withstand the flow of time, then humans are an even briefer swirl upon its surface.

Another swirl is saying that for a thousand years a boulder has lain in the river and carved up the current. Right now the river is high enough that the boulder only bulges the surface, yet when the river drops, the current crashes into the boulder and sprays over it or pushes around it, leaving a long comet tail of swirls. These swirls say that, however ultimately strong the river may be, for now the river will have to obey the will of rock, not just of boulders but of the canyon walls that steer the river’s every turn. And so must I. Much of my route is a mapping out of the matrix of fault lines and of sedimentary strengths and weaknesses of eons ago.

Just within my view there are hundreds of swirls, sparkling as they move, and over the length of the river there are many millions, some of them too feeble to spin a leaf, others strong enough to trap a raft, all of them subtly linked like interconnected gears, like an Escher puzzle. The swirl in front of me is distinctly different because the swirl upstream spun one way and not another; it’s a molecule different because a mile upstream a big horn sheep filled her thirst, or because a hundred miles upstream a waterfall broke out and added volume to the river. If only I could read the river’s language, I could read of thousands of events small and large, near and distant. I could see last winter’s snow falling in the Rockies, and last century’s floods altering the river channel. I could see all the events that went into the carving of the canyon. I could see the twists of evolution that created one form of marine fossils and not another, one form of limestone and not a softer or harder form. And to this dialogue on fate I add my own voice, my own tongue in the form of a kayak blade, gulping words the river never heard until recently, words that will linger inscrutably for miles, or days, or more.

When the river spins my boat to face back upstream, sometimes the boat will re-lock itself into the current and stay pointed upstream for awhile. Floating down the river backwards can be disconcerting when your boat suddenly wobbles on a riffle or an eddy line you didn’t notice. Yet it is also quite appropriate for the Colorado River to point you towards where you came from, for this is the vision that no other river can offer so well, a vision of the geological and biological past out of which humans came. The canyon walls give manifest form to the enormity of time. They display the patient gathering of sand grains and silt and calcium shells over hundreds of millions of years. They display the massive pushing of tectonic plates, which lifted the land high, and the quiet falling of raindrops, which carved the land away. They display the steady flowing of life through the eons. The black schist at the canyon bottom, nearly two billion years old, remembers life’s long infancy, and the layers above record how life’s primitive metabolism strengthened into the steadfast heartbeat that became my own. The fossil shells in the rock would go on to become the shell of my kayak, a shell sculpted for its own ecological role, its bringing to this canyon of unread memory a tongue which could finally proclaim life’s recognition of its long wondrous journey.

It’s no wonder that my kayak loves to spin and drift, for drifting is anciently rooted in its essence. The Greek word for drifting is planktos, from which comes the word plankton, for the marine plants that drift freely with the currents and the wind. My kayak was made out of plankton that lived and died 100 million years ago, but which had not forgotten how to drift. This plankton had piled up on continental shelves and was buried so far from the light that it turned the color of darkness. Then one day it was resurrected to make cars drift down highways, and it was also molded into plastic shapes like kayaks. In the carbon of its hydrocarbons, my kayak still remembers the biochemical promise it had made 100 million years ago, the promise to defend life against the formless chaos of the sea, and thus it is defending me now against the river’s chaos. After eons of drifting through underground strata, my kayak belonged here in the depths of the earth.

My kayak also makes it easier for me to meet the life of the present, for wildlife seems less intimidated by a lone quiet kayaker, his hands safely preoccupied, than by a raft full of people and noise and strange objects. I can sneak through eddies and get close to a big horn sheep, a heron, or a beaver before they notice me, yet even when they see me coming, they seem less concerned, and perhaps they are even curious about this creature who, between boat, helmet, and paddling clothes, is not so obviously human. I’ve had more than one friendly staring contest with a big horn sheep, who would never allow me to come so close on land. Sometimes fish swim alongside me as if I’m a fellow fish.

I am a river, babe - I've got plenty of time, I don't know where I'm going, I'm just following the lines..... - "We are water" by Shaye
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Old 05-22-2009   #22
lhowemt's Avatar
at my house, Montana
Paddling Since: 2020
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 4,347
Feeling my fellowship with the desert sun, I unseal my boat and reach for my water bottle, and just as I raise the bottle in front of me, the boat wobbles slightly. The water inside the bottle feels this wobble, but mostly it shows its loyalty to the river, trying to match the river’s equilibrium. This water should be loyal to the river, for it is Colorado River water filtered from the river. I hold the Colorado River to my lips and pour it into me, and the river washes away my thirst and flows throughout me. Only on a river trip as long as the Grand Canyon do you spend enough time on a river that, as you drink from nowhere but the river day after day, the portion of river water in your body grows larger every day until a majority of your weight is the river itself. Now it’s the Colorado River itself that is sweating from my pores, seeking to return to its real self. Now it’s the power of the Colorado River that is powering my arms and my boat. Now it’s the rapids that are running the rapids. The red river is flowing even redder through my veins. The clear river is forming in my eyes a reflection far clearer than any it ever mirrored on its surface. And in my brain, in the canyons of human lobes, a river that had flowed obliviously for millions of years can now recognize itself, its primordial power and beauty, its massive sculptural work.

The same power that sculpted the canyon walls is now sculpting me. Every time I reach my paddle into the water and sculpt it into a bulge and a wave, the river reaches into my body and sculpts my muscles, implanting its strength in me, at least in the long run. In the course of a day, the river drains my strength. With every stroke I feel the river resisting my paddle, even in calm water, and in stronger currents the river grips my paddle and wrestles me for control. I wrestle with the power that had carved away a mile of rock. I feel the tectonic power that had lifted up the Rocky Mountains and created the Gulf of California. I weigh the tectonic clouds that lifted billions of tons of seawater to the mountaintops, and I feel all the cascades and waterfalls pouring off the mountains. At the end of the trip when I lifted my kayak out of the river, perhaps I would notice that my arms were stronger than at the start. My kayak was being lifted now by the very waves that had lifted it in Hermit Rapid and Lava Falls, waves still flexing in my arms and not soon to be flattened. The Colorado River would propel my boat even on a calm lake weeks hence. The Colorado River would lift grocery bags containing California lettuce containing curls of the very water that had curled in Horn Creek. The Colorado River would propel my pen down this whitewater page.

My wooden paddle also bears the marks of flowing water. My paddle had been trees in some Appalachian hollow, soaking up water that was trying to become creek water and river water but which instead was summoned into a river flowing into the sky, into a delta of green leaves. My paddle still shows the annual growth rings of the trees, a strata of time and deposition just like the canyon’s. Through this wood had flowed a river not just of water but of sunlight and earth, and life had transformed those elements into the strongest of cells, cells that could support tons of weight, and which supported me now. Thus my intercessor with the Colorado is wood that understands and loves both water and life. Limbs that had flexed through a hurricane now felt the storm surges of the Colorado River and flexed but would not break. The tree limbs become my own limbs, and I feel a strength that is not my own and not the river’s, a strength I might mistake, when at the bottom of a rapid I glanced at the sensuous golden wood grain gleaming with river water, for mere beauty, the way you might see in a golden Redwall sunset only beauty and not the deep strength of fossil shells.

At each rapid, my conversation with the river changes tone. The river speaks to me more forcefully, tells me that it is breaking my centaur unity with the river, tells me to obey its hydrological authority. With my paddle I now speak more forcefully to the river. We are no longer speaking the same language. The river is speaking of chaos, but I am speaking of order, of the deep, layer-upon-layer biological order of cells and organs and muscles and consciousness, all of which demand the breath the river is ready to deny.

I feel the current accelerating and drop into the long turbulence. The river yells at me that it doesn’t care about my life. It yells hard statistics about gravity and volume and the chaotic arrangement of boulders. It yells, if I am hearing correctly, about the people who have drowned in this river. I yell back that I understand the river. I understand the push of this current; I understand the strength of the wave that is about to hit me; I understand the true nature of what appears to be a wave. I yell that there’s a pattern in the chaotic arrangement of boulders. I tell the river about human biology, about the acuity of human vision and judgment, the quick reflexes of human balance, the accurate workings of torso and shoulders and arms and wrists to constantly reshape my body and efforts to the shapes of the waves. I am loyally repeating the river’s every word about gravity and volume and boulders, yet I am translating them into the biological rosary that proclaims a greater loyalty. I teach the river of all that has happened on land since the raw waters of oceans and rivers shaped themselves into amphibians and sent wave after biological wave onto shore. Then the waves grow smaller, the current less frantic, and the currents in my own veins calm down also. The river turns back into a mirror in which I can see myself paddling along, framed by the canyon walls.

There is a deep beauty to boating down the Colorado River. This is not just the aesthetic beauty of great cliffs and glorious sunsets, which you could also see in photographs. This is the sensual beauty of being wrapped in cliffs radiating heat, of feeling the strong fresh waves in your shoulders and face, of feeling a wind a hundred miles old and loaded with desert scents, of holding the sunset in your hand. Yet there is even more to this beauty. This is the beauty not just of the senses but of presence, of actually being here is so glorious a place, here in the grip of so powerful a river, a river making an epic journey that had always been your own, an implacably real river and canyon that force you into awareness of being a body fully real.

This river mirror portrays humans more truly than do the bathroom mirrors in which we daily disguise ourselves in our work or social identities. The river beaches acknowledge only the identity of the universal human footprint. The river reveals in me the same depths of time and work that it has unearthed in the canyon rock. The river is willing for me to take some of its depth and beauty and intensity with me when I leave the river and let them flow through my life for a long time. In spite of our apparent differences, in spite of our occasional arguments about hydrology vs. biology, the river and I understand each other fairly well, for we both were summoned out of formlessness to briefly have a shape and a journey, a journey back to the inarticulate sea.

I am a river, babe - I've got plenty of time, I don't know where I'm going, I'm just following the lines..... - "We are water" by Shaye
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Old 05-22-2009   #23
TakemetotheRiver's Avatar
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 05
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,477
Welcome back Randaddy! I want to know where you flipped first. Then the rest. I've been taking care of that other Buzz business here and there for you- .

Wanna meet up to do the Ark in early June?

"There is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Look here! If you've really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?" -Wind in the Willows
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