Monday, March 11, 2013

the same old river

When I decided to try to stay in one place, the thing I most feared was the slow sinking into the ordinary. I'm not one to brag, to monopolize the conversation with old stories dredged from a murky past. Most people have no idea of my former lives. But still, when I would think over my day back then, it was satisfying to recall what I did: land in a Dehavilland Beaver floatplane on a lake the color of azure to camp for days in the trackless mountains. Kayak in twelve foot swells along the Chichagof coast where bears grazed the bering sea sedge like cows in the estuaries. Drive a swamp buggy through four feet of midnight black water, the red eyes of alligators like tiny starbursts.  Drop roped into the twilight zone of caves. March into the path of a distant fire.

Living in one place, what would those stories be? Traveling the same trails, beaten down by others. Left behind as others fought the fires, left for the season. The fear of this kept me traveling way past the time  I should have quit. Driving through whatever silent burg I lived in, exhausted, bug-bit, muscles aching, I would spy the cars of the stay-at-homes. How, I would think, can they stand it?

It's become a spring ritual for me. In the last four years I scour the weather forecast for a spot 18 miles NNE of Imnaha. It is where the Imnaha and Snake Rivers collide, bright sparkling water into brown, the wise old cliffs towering over head. It is where spring first touches this county. Once the forecast brushes sixty, I load up and head down a rattlesnake of a road, the kind of place where you clench your teeth and hope a horse trailer isn't coming the opposite way. I hike in on a path deeply familiar by now, following the gregarious Imnaha River as it falls to the Snake. I pick the same beach and camp there, sleeping to the sound of the river.

Only this year the canyon is different. Last fall it burned down to the bone, a lightning strike carrying fire from the ridge all the way to the river. The flames exposed its history; old can dumps from the stamp mill days, farm machinery, bighorn sheep trails. Without some of the brush, new camping sites emerged. The poison ivy was knocked into submission and the ticks were absent. The canyon appeared almost benign.

I found a new beach that had been only a small sliver the year before, now expanded to a perfect campsite. I hesitated. I always camped at the farther beach. But here this one was, a gift. Abandoning the trail, I made for it.

The night was an immense bowl of stars. The river sang its endless song. My life is different now and I would be lying if I said I didn't miss those days of high adventure sometimes. In many ways, life is easier when you can fill it with all-you-can-do non-stop activity. When you can move every couple of years, you can leave the things you don't like behind, like the possessions I carted to the thrift shops. You can shrug at the tears: "You knew I was like this when you met me," you can say.

I know now what I didn't before: there is something just as brave about staying.


  1. Really nice post. Nice to travel with you.

  2. Wonderful post. As a "staying" person, I'm always looking for ways to "never stop exploring."

  3. Yes, it is a constant struggle for me to keep a balance of interesting things without lapsing into franticness. If that makes sense.

    Dragon--you will be back here soon!


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