“Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything.”- Henry David Thoreau
It is June, 2021. I have just arrived in Salmon for a break from the stress of my job, Colorado wildfires, a global pandemic, and the hatred and divisiveness tearing through my hometown that began with Covid.
I need a break.
I came here with the hope of escaping the heat of the southwest, yet, it is hotter here than at home. The temperatures in the northwest are pushing the hundreds, shining a glaring and disheartening light on global warming.
My heart is heavy with the weight of the world.
When I pull into town, I stand on the bank of the river, feet immersed, letting the cool water swirl around my ankles, swirl through my brain. My body relaxes after 16 hours of driving. My breathing slows.
I dunk my head, feeling a momentary brain freeze that wakes me out of my haze of anger, grief, frustration, fear, exhaustion.
The river says to me, Let it go...let it all go.
I sleep that night with the river's voice in my dreams telling me that this too shall pass.
The next day, I arrive at Idaho Adventures along with 6 other people who I have never met but with whom I have one important thing in common; we are here to commune with the natural world and maybe share laughter with new friends.
Our guides place paddles in our hands and our bodies on a cheery yellow boat. One moment the boat is holding still on a sandy beach, then, with a little push, I feel the water swim under the raft, lift it off the ground, and pull it into the current. We are afloat.
The water is clear enough to see fish swim among the multi-hued rocks decorating the bottom of the river. I want to fill my pockets with beautiful Idaho stones so different from the sandstone of my home. Turns out my guide wants to do the same.
As we splash through rapids and drift lazily in the flatwater, we see an osprey flying from a tree to the shore and back again. He is building a nest for his new family. He passes directly in front of the boat, close enough to see his yellow eye and the small ponderosa branch in his talons.
He has not given up on the world.
Within minutes we see a juvenile bald eagle, curious about our craft, about humans. He stares as we pass by. We stare back in awe.
The big horn sheep and deer that line the shore are not afraid. Instead they are as curious about us as we are about them.
Suddenly, we hit a big rapid. Paddling as hard as we can, we splash through the waves and grab a man by the foot as he threatens to bounce out. In the disconcerting 100 degree heat, we welcome the cold water.
We spend several hours on the river and the take out comes too soon. It has been a perfect day and no one is ready for it to end. We have made new friends and had a grand adventure.
More importantly, in the midst of all that is beautiful, encouraged by the osprey and the bighorn, we have put aside the fear and angst and despair of what life has felt like for these last months. We have shared a few hours of lightness and joy and normalcy.
On the bus drive back to town, our charming guide turns on the radio and Kenny Rogers' melodic voice gives us advice, not only on gambling, but on life itself.
"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold, 'em..."
We all join in, singing joyfully out of key, celebrating the freedom that we each felt on the river and reminding ourselves that the world is a good place and we are so very fortunate to be surrounded by the beauty and resilience of the natural world.
Mr. Thoreau was right - when you are on the river, there is no room for despair.
And that's why we do it.