Sunday, August 22, 2010

The River Runs Through It

The front door clicked shut and I stood there alone. The chaos, balloons, gifts, laughter of our newly engaged son and fiancee as they returned to school settled like dust in the empty silence. Simultaneously, Arvo also left for 4 days to hopefully convince his feeble mother she needs to return with him to our home where we can care for her, or at least settle her in a nearby apartment where we can help her rather than her unsafe current situation living all alone 10 hours away.

So the suddenly tomblike house held only me and Asherel and of course the dogs.
"Let's go do something fun," I told my sidekick, trying to shove depression aside.
We packed the kayaks in the car and headed off to Landsford Canal State park, where the Catawba river has a few miles of placid waters. I had been assured by a fellow kayaker that I could kayak upstream against the current for miles from that park and there would be no rapids to puncture or manhandle my inflatable kayak. "It is always calm and placid in that section."

So it was a great surprise when we pulled into the stunningly gorgeous park to see a raging river speeding over rocks and somersaulting in a spray of kayak crunching whitewater. I would call it magnificent, breathtaking, exciting.... but not placid.
We had driven an hour and lugged our kayaks to the shore already. How could we not go in.... but .... how could we safely go in? Now to the downstream side were obviously class 2 and 3 rapids that I knew we could not do. But to the upstream side, while the current looked very strong, there were no rapids. I hate it when the choice is between certain death, or probable death. I remembered that the old timer whom we had talked to a few weeks back had told us that the river current looked very fast, but that even he had been able to canoe upriver in all but flood stage water.

"Let me go in and see if I can paddle upstream a little ways, and then I will let you know if I think you can do it too," I said.
Several people picnicking there came to the shore with worried looks, asking if I needed help and would I be ok?
"I hope so," I said.
I stepped in off the bank expecting ankle deep water, but it came up over my knee. I had tied the kayak and paddle to me so at least we would all scrape our skin off together should we be carried downstream. I hopped in the boat.
"The river is really high," called one kind woman, "You know, flooded by the storm last night."
OH oh.
"all but flood stage water...." he had said......
I began to paddle like a lawn ornament whirling in the wind as the current snatched me.

Just like the old man had told me, the kayak skimmed upstream and as long as I kept paddling, it was fine. Just past the launch point, the water became much calmer. We could do this.

So I helped Asherel get her boat in and ordered her to "paddle hard til you get past that curve... it gets easier."
She did so and we both were soon past the raging gurgling area and onto one of the most magnificent stretches of wide river beauty I had ever seen. We knew an eagle pair lived near this park, and I heard what sounded like eagles in the distance. I saw a large bird high overhead circling on an updraft- an eagle or hawk. Maybe osprey. Huge herons were fishing along the shore. A giant gar surfaced to snatch a bug. Turtles poked pointed snouts above the water watching us glide by. Both shores were lined with deep verdant green forests. The silence was only punctured by the splash of our paddles. It was glorious. It had been worth the momentary brush with danger.

We had been warned to stay near shore as the river was calmer there, but I called out to Asherel to avoid overhanging limbs right by the shore as hornets loved to build nests right over the water.
"Like this one?" she asked as she came close to scraping through it. It was nearly hidden by the thick foliage.
"Yes like that one, paddle hard and move away from that."
It was a huge hornet nest, probably with enough hornets inside to win the war in Iraq.

Asherel was less concerned about the hornet's nest than she was about the need to paddle continuously against the current and how far did we intend to go? I promised her that the downstream ride would be worth all this effort, but I don't think she believed me, and in fact, I think she thought it might be worth it to just end it now at the Hornet's nest.

We did finally turn back. I did so regretfully wondering if I would ever find someone willing to kayak with me as long as I wanted to, and Asherel wondering if she would ever find someone willing to kayak with her as briefly as she wanted to. But the current grabbed us and with no effort we were shooting downstream.
"Now this is fun!" called out Asherel.
"Yes but you have to go upstream to be able to do the downstream!" I reminded her.

And that is the big lesson of the river to me. Life is a lot of work sometimes. It is an upstream struggle, filled with beauty but also with booby traps along the way that threaten to sting you. You have to be constantly vigilant while maintaining a sense of wonder and awe. And if you are willing to endure, and maintain faith that you can persevere, when you are beckoned to return to the place where your journey began, to the One who created the need for the journey, it will be effortless joy. You are carried on a current of redemption.

Psalm 46: 4-5

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.


  1. Vicky, You are an excellent writer and so in-tuned to God and His creation. Thanks for helping others see what and Who you see. Great word pictures and humor too. Smiles-- Carol

  2. i so appreciate that encouragement. thank you so much Carol!