The wisdom of no escape is a book by Pema Chodron discussing the struggle of staying put, not fleeing, while also not trying to grasp onto the world as it swirls around you. Some times this notion arises in me more poignantly than other times. It helps me to hold course. Here’s a poem to this effect:
Don’t struggle Mitzi.
Let these warm arms envelop you
And hold you close. True
Love cannot hurt you.
The colour will drain
From the maple’s leaves in autumn
From the edge to the base
Of each leaf
As it always has
The ocean will never hold on too tight
It means no harm
It’s just a child that doesn’t know its power
When laminarity fails it
Just like any one of us.
Mitzi, it’s okay.
We love you and
everything will be alright. You’ll
Always find a warm mantle
And field mice
And those arms to encircle you
When the November rains come
And there’s no licking your fur dry.
Find something difficult to break your brain over. Something that makes you squirm and want to leave and too hot and want to run away. Something that makes you say “I’ll never be any good at this”. See if you can be with it even when it makes you question your firmly held truths about the world. I’m conducting an experiment in awkwardness and expression in a way that doesn’t come naturally to me at all. Sometimes it makes my brain ache. Sometimes it makes me laugh at myself and the other people around. I’ll get back to you when I know the answer. Until then I’ll be rewiring synapses and burning out neurons.
Everything that you lack the creativity to see as a possibility
will necessarily remain impossible to you.
By the same token, if you dare to imagine something
then there is every possibility that it will become a reality
To conceive refers to the act of bringing something new
to the world in all of its unruly beauty.
In august the yellowjackets appear
hovering over your arugula salad
making you question every bite
and sip of beer
by September they are fat and slow
landing on your plate
drunk on fermented berries
and fallen apples
pissed off looking for a fight
against the coming winter
Now as I eat my dinner
alone in my livingroom
I find them curled up
on the floor
embracing a b-b sized
empty space. Wings silent.
They come in off the wood pile
to a shock of heat great
enough to let go of all
that anger somehow stored up
from those months of sunshine
I had dreamed of canoeing the lower reaches of the Green River, Utah for almost five years. My first multi day canoe trip was down the John Day in oregon and it gave me a good taste for desert rivers, the lazy river life, hot sun, and cold alcoholic beverages while floating through beautifully untouched natural areas. After that trip I started to hunt for something else along the same vein. At the same time I was considering buying a pygmy sea kayak. While hunting through their website, I found a link to a trip that the owners had done on the Green River. They described warm weather, skinny dipping, solitude, and a non-technical float. All of these things sounded good to me. I looked at maps and read other trip reports and saw that the river drops through the heart of Canyonlands National Park giving access to some of the most remote country in the United States. Sold!
So, like a lot of things that get done and also don’t get done, I plotted and thought, hemmed and hawed but didn’t ever pull the trigger. The trip risked becoming a sidelight that I would explore while bored at work, or think about when I had nothing better to do and wanted escape. But, last fall my life was pretty tossed up into the air. Enough that I thought “What the hell, I may as well book the trip”. I’d told my sister about the river some time before and she was 100% gung ho from the moment we talked about it. So, with a promise from her that no matter what, at least the two of us would make it, I reserved shuttle space for 6 people for the dates 18 September, 2011 through the 26th. This would give us 9 days and 8 nights on the water to cover about 100 river miles or so.
So then I kind of forgot about the trip. I mean I always knew that it was lurking and I spent some time researching it and looking for people to go on the trip with. But, some major changes came into my life starting right after when I booked the shuttle. First, my mother passed away after a battle with cancer. Next, I was hired for a new job in a new city: Victoria, BC. Next I broke up with my girlfriend. Looking back on it, it’s natural that a canoe trip wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Plus, it’s hard to pin people down that far in advance. I knew that my sister would do it and each time I brought it up her enthusiasm encouraged me that it was actually going to happen and that, when the time came, we would find people that would climb into the boats with us.
But, inevitably, things fell into place. My first order of bureaucracy at my new job was to ask for the time off to make the trip. This took up all of my limited, junior employee vacation time. Next we sorted through people who would come along. My dad was interested, but didn’t know what his work schedule would be like. My friends in Corvallis have limited vacation or had already planned other things. But over the course of caring for my mom that summer of 2010, we had made good friends with a great band of surfers and denizens of Newport. As summer progressed toward launching the boats, they became more and more interested and we soon had two more on board. My sister’s boyfriend had agreed to the trip as soon as they started dating and, right about then, my friends in Vancouver opted in after a long summer of hosting relatives and very little peace. That they thought they might get some peace on the river seems odd in hindsight now…
So, in the end there were seven of us. My friends and my sisters friends and people that I already thought I loved as much as one can love some friends. we had enough people to fill a few canoes and the spare person would ride in the sea kayak trading off as needed with people that wanted the autonomy.
The plan was to meet in Moab on the 17th to get ready to join the outfitter to get our shuttle and get on the water on the 18th.
I wound up driving down to meet a couple of newport people in Pendleton Oregon, which is the convergence point for routes to Moab.
of course, who can resist getting in a kayak, no matter where it is.
First morning together on the road to Moab. This is as far south in Idaho as you can go before it becomes Utah.
Hark, I hear a 4% beer speaking of the sea.
Nance taking a smoke break
Loaded canoes at Ruby Ranch
Entering the Navajo Sandstone. The cliffs grew around us as the river slid south to the Colorado.
First evening on the sandbar. Watching the sun drop behind the cliffs.
Figuring out each other, the cooking, and the snacks on the first night.
Heading towards wicked drunkenness, midnight naked swimming, and getting to know eachother really well.
The next morning, Mauro and Ursula dropping out of the Navajo sandstone.
Preserved paleo mudcracks.
1 out of 3 of these people are extremely hung over. Hint: it’s not me or Ryan. Nothing draws out the toxins like a good mudbath.
Heading towards evening. This was always the best time on the river. Shade to cool down in (temperature was in the mid thirties/lower 90’s), nice sun angle, calm winds. Peace.
Although, the heat wasn’t always a bad thing.
The mud/sand bar of our second camp. Soon after we arrived the mosquitos descended and were horrible.
No, it’s not cold enough to be wearing this much clothing. Ursula heroically fanned mosquitos off of the cooks while they made dinner.
Mauro and Ryan up on a sandstone formation on the gap of the Bowknot. Lil’ moon up there too.
First of many family photos.
Soon after we decided it was time to raft up. Three hours later most of us had a little sacajawea in us.
There are lots of places to jump into the river. The challenge is making sure the water is deep enough. This is done with paddle probing, careful jumping, and diving. This was one of the highest cliffs we jumped.
Ryan demonstrating good wine-bag handling skills.
Look, a bat.
More bats at cocktail hour. This camp was our first two night camp spot. It was on the White Rim sandstone in a place where a wash poured off the plateau above. There was a chain of fresh pools leading up from camp to the desert above.
This is another chain of such pools. This one ends in a 300 foot drop to the river below.
Another family photo. This time with Woody, Ryan, nellyda, me, and Angelina. Mauro and Ursula went climbing.
Candlelit tent grotto.
Ryan and Woody playing chess by the fire at our next camp site.
Family photo minus me and nellyda. This is up a side canyon on our way to look into Horse Canyon and up into the Maze of Canyonlands National Park.
Looking back down onto our river and our camp on the leftmost bank of the river. Not really visible.
Overlooking Horse Canyon. The creekbed below had water in it from recent rains. The plateau was scorching hot, and we wished we could make it down there to cool off.
Well developed cryptobiotic soil. On this hike we saw parts of canyonlands that many people never get to see. In this area there were layers upon layers of jasper and chert which the natives probably found pretty handy.
Woody diving in. This is the diving rock at our second to last camp site where we stayed for a couple of nights. The swimming was great. The bottom was nowhere to be seen and the diving options endless.
Small cliff swelling.
Ryan perched way way out on an overlook of the Colorado. This was our last day on the river. We hiked up a side canyon to try to find an overlook to view the confluence with the Colorado. The formations around here were spectacular candy drop shapes in red and white sandstone. Everything looked like it was melting under the sun. In the distance we could see the needles district of the park and the maze. This made us want to stay and hike for another month, but no such luck.
Some clouds in the sky this, our last day.
Last family photo. Woody stayed back at camp to watch ravens eat kangaroo rats.
When we reached the Colorado, the jet boat was already waiting for us. So, without ado, we loaded up and were on our way. I was sad that our time on the water was over and it wasn’t a surprise when I dreamed about the river for a week after the trip. I’m not sure what yet, but this trip changed something in me. Probably for the better.
And back to the world of fences and blacktop. The day after getting off the river, Ryan and Woody and I attempted to drive all the way home. We woke at 5 in the morning and drove all the way to Pendleton where their car was parked. I knew my clutch was having issues, so it wasn’t a surprise when, after they left, I couldn’t get the car in gear and was stranded. But, that’s another story.