ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Nose to Nose with Fear, Heart to Heart with Each Other

Next Monday, my 19th annual all-women river odyssey embarks, the rafts launching into the Colorado River at the Westwater put-in.  Each trip brings something new, but the river always gets the creative juices flowing.  We play.  We hike.  We swim.  We journal.  We run rapids.  We talk about process.  We share.  We get wonderfully silly.  Profoundly serious. We get silly all over again, in and out of the water, up and down the canyon walls, in and out of each others stories.  

From sun to shade, dark to light—in every metaphorical way imaginable. Wilderness landscapes stir our souls in life-changing ways.  We become lost in their grandeur and in the getting lost rediscover a vital part of ourselves.
Nowhere else besides the river is this transformation so enabled.  Each time, the joy of living simply is rediscovered as we journey down the river together—a cool drink of water, a playful mud bath, quiet conversation, the taste of a fresh tomato, sliced avocado, sweet summer corn.  But it’s the evening memories that endure, when our tents are pitched and the women guides are gathered with us around a fire as night comes to the canyon.

Several years ago, an underwater photographer for National Geographic whose job took her to the depths of the ocean, joined the trip.  I’ll call her Susan. “I figured the other women were bound to be interesting,’ she told me.  Yet she felt far more at home with a camera than a pen.  One evening, she volunteered to share her journaling from earlier that day.  She waited for a woman from Wyoming to finish reading a humorous piece about the time her brave, old grandmother killed a cranky rattlesnake with a short pair of horse hobbles.  Shaking, she began. “This takes so much courage,” she said.  “I was diving off the coast of Florida, and came nose to nose with a shark.”

Photo by Peter Verhoog / Dutch Shark Society, used with permission.  


As if by accident, the story of her brother’s untimely death several months earlier had woven its way into her journal.  She read aloud to us, comparing the darkness of her grief as she stared into the shark’s cold eyes, to the grip of fear she felt as a deadly sea serpent coiled itself around her flippers.  Her story ended as a canyon wren’s last song of the evening spiraled through the dusk.

Memories like these, coupled with the memories of laughter while floating down the river, or quiet conversation as we rest in the shade after a hike, exploring our own interior landscapes, remind me why I have been returning to the river for nineteen years.  Susan had walked through a desert of sorrow to bring us the gift of her story.  We listened by the fire, each holding stories close to the heart, emboldened to begin telling our stories.  The river returned us to our roots, our wildness, our spirituality, our sense of self.  The river gave us courage.  

Note: Contact me if you would like to get on the waiting list for the 2017, 20th River Writing & Sculpting Adventure. Roxanne Swentzell, renowned sculptor from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, will be returning as my featured guest for this celebratory trip.  You may view her bronzes at Tower Gallery.  View more Peter Verhoog photography (Dutch Shark Society).