Well, I can’t sleep so I might as well write a bit. The reason I can’t sleep is two-fold. One part involves the indigestion I have gotten because of all the junk I ate on the river. The other thing that is keeping me up is the fact I chose to drink some coffee at about 10 p.m. because I felt that later wakefulness would be better than falling asleep at the wheel on the drive home. Goodness knows I wasn’t going to get any help staying awake from my snoring husband, who had spent the afternoon involved in a deep philosophical discussion about politics and how much it sucks to get old.
Now, Jeri and I decided yesterday that we were floating today come hell or high water, and there was some pretty reasonable water out there. The weather guessers opined that we had a 40% chance of scattered showers. Other people planning to float today had travelled as far as from Kansas City or thereabouts, and they weren’t about to let some silly chance of rain turn them back. As we were loading out the canoes and kayaks, making sure every vessel was equipped with floatation and trashbags and paddles, it began to sprinkle. I observed a very dark bottomed cloud hovering over us and thought that it might actually rain on us for a bit. Other people in the group also made the exact same observation.
No sooner had we all gotten on the river and around the first bend, the dark cloud began to sprinkle on us gently. It was beautiful. We still were in the sunshine, and the light glittering through all the sparkling raindrops was positively ethereal. We were surrounded by birdsong, the river was quite full of water and chuckled busily underneath us. We sort of enjoyed getting damp, because all of us were prepared fully for a nice sunny day. There were diaphanous coverups, cutoff tshirts, bathing suits. And it wasn’t the least bit cold, upper sixties in temperature, not a breath of wind. That made the gentle rain even more magical, because the drops fell so straight. I floated past tree swallows that had recently fledged, all perched in a row on a sycamore skeleton at the edge of the river bank. They were preening and fluttering their wings in the falling rain, taking a charming impromptu shower.
After a while, we all started talking about how nice it would be if the sun would come out. It was very frustrating, floating along in the incessant rain, slowly becoming drenched to the skin while off in the distance on both the east and west banks you could see blue sky and sun on the tree covered hills. If you turned and look back up river, the sky was grey and sodden, and that was the weather we were enjoying. Gradually, the rain got heavier and heavier. I discovered that I was actually warmer if I took of my white shirt which I usually use as a sun-block.
The weather teased us, rain lightening up for a time to just gentle droplets making laces of ripples all over the otherwise glassy surface of the river. The steady rain was starting to run off the fields from little side gullies — just a little bit. We played with the music-making holes in the bluffs, rocking our canoes to make ripples to make the percussion of the water and stone happen. After a while, we all started getting cold. The relentless rain, even though fairly warm, was sucking the heat out of our bodies. We stopped for lunch and ate all kinds of stuff: I had homemade scones and leftover chicken and a small container with olives, marinated artichoke hearts and marinated sun-dried tomatoes, but there was plenty of other stuff to share as well and I ate it all: chips, nuts, more chips, no beer, though. I drew the line at the alcoholic empty calories. As we were pulling into the gravel bar where we were planning to eat, one of our company dumped their canoe and lost a shoe as well as a paddle (which was recovered) along with all their beer and their cooler. There were insane young men with us who decided that they were swimming because that was what you do on a float and persisted in diving into the swimming holes at every gravel bar. It wasn’t really very crazy behavior; they were already soaked to the skin with rain. Why not enjoy the rush of throwing yourself into the river?
Anyway, despite the fact that we were all gradually approaching hypothermia, we had to pretty much plug on. We were way too far downriver to want to turn back. I had my river bag with me, which I will have to someday inventory for you. (Note to self: possible blog post) Suffice it to say that amongst all the other highly useful objects in that bag, I have an emergency rain poncho. This is a piece of plastic sheet with proper arm holes and even a hood that folds up into a packet the size of a pack of cards. As soon as I remembered that I had that, I put it on and immediately started the process of warming up. That was when I really started to enjoy the float.
Once warm, I could relax a little bit. I started looking around, and the light out there was stunning. I decided clear back at home that because of the threat of rain I wasn’t going to take a camera with me. Maybe I was having a premonition. I suppose I need one that is waterproof. Anyway, because of this lack of camera, I have no photographic representation of what was unfolding before my eyes, but it was wonderfully beautiful.
Let’s see. How to begin. Try to picture a broad smooth expanse of river water, unfolding in front of you. Today there is enough water that most of the rocks and logs are covered. Everywhere the woods are green, in every imaginable shade of green from chartreuse to almost blue-green and bright brassy grassy greens. The greens are punctuated with greens and browns. The trees mound up above the shrubs that line the banks in thick array. Every once in a while as we dallied along we would pass through a wafted drift of rose scent from the multiflora roses garlanding the high banks. If you closed your eyes and concentrated, you could hear at least fifteen different species of birds singing and chirping twittering and and buzzing away around you. All of this bird song is overlaying a white noise pattern of the rain on the river surface, the leaves, and the larger drops pattering into the water from where they accumulated on the overhanging sycamores, walnuts, oaks, redbuds and . . .
Imagine all that riot of green reflected in the water before you. It is almost a perfect reflection because despite the rain that has now been falling steadily for about three hours, there is not a bit of wind. So the water is glassy smooth, but all over the surface there is a lacy pattern of ripples interlocking and reflecting off each other, tiny pools of movement caused by the gently falling rain. So the reflection of the woods wavers gently in the the waters, which appear to be green until you finally look down past the reflections and see how clear the river water really is. Sometimes you can see a turtle swimming up next to you, curious about this odd log floating along above him. As soon as they realize you are people, they duck back down into the greeny depths.
Off in the distance the sun was shining on the hills, which turned brightly golden, looking very warm to all us chilled people. This golden light, refracted by all the rain still falling where we were , shone in a beautiful path right down the center of the river before me, illuminating the whole scene in some sort of unearthly peaceful light. I just floated along in the current, gently correcting my vector once in a while, and tried to take that picture deep into my memory. I sang and invocation, calling in the directions. It seemed so right to do it there, in the midst of all the elements.
We really had a very wonderful day. And shortly after the golden lit promise from down stream of us, the sun came out where we were and everyone stopped on a gravel bar and dried off and warmed up. We floated in the late afternoon sunlight the rest of the way down to the take out, where a sumptuous repast of smoked pork shoulder and black beans awaited us, prepared by Jim for our replenishment. Everyone agreed a good time was had by all.
One particularly favorite moment for me was when I was ahead of the group of 10 canoes, leading the way around the twists and turns and scoping out the snags ahead of us so that perhaps we could prevent any further dumping of canoes. As the “scout” I was responsible for trying to spot hazards before anyone got entangled in them. Suddenly as I paddled strongly around a little twist and neatly avoided a large sycamore which had fallen in the last flood, I suddenly felt a connection to a Mohawk ancestor somewhere as he was paddling in some North American river with the Voyageurs. I was strong, I could read the river, I was deeply connected to it all the way through the fabric of my canoe, which I sometimes feel like I am actually wearing. Anyway, it was powerful medicine, that feeling of connection to a deep ancestral past. Makes me sort of buy that “genetic memory” thing I’ve read about.
Well, I believe the caffeine is finally wearing off, so I believe I’ll hit the rack. Someone said something about floating again tomorrow as I was pouring my husband into the car and departing for home. I think I’ll wait to decide that until after I’ve slept for at least 6 hours and see what the weather is doing. I’m not sure I really want to float in the rain again. It was beautiful, and I actually did enjoy it (especially after I put the rain cape on), but it is very tiring to be cold and eight miles is a long float in any conditions.