The River Walker

(From 2014) – I stood a dozen or so feet above the River’s bank, planning how I would get from rock to rock, and make my way upriver to a giant rock, so that I could sit on it and just feel the water. I wanted to become One with the River. To do that I would have to go into it and learn of its nature, and I would have to conquer its pitfalls. I felt I was ready, and so I went.

I walked down the bank and stepped into the cold water. It was ankle deep, and as I turned back to my friends, I lost balance with both feet. The rocks were more slippery than I had anticipated. Both feet landed on other rocks, and with my groin stretched a ways I am glad they stopped sliding. Having learned my first lesson, I began to use my hands and feet together to balance the best, keeping my body out of the water, because the water is much colder than I imagined. Having learned my second lesson, I put both feet up onto the first rock that I planned to stop at. Its value was so much greater, now that I realized it was warming my feet from the bottom as the sun warmed them from the top. It requires a different way of standing, to sit on a rock not as wide as my shoulders. I felt like a frog.

It did not take long before I felt ready to go again, so I made my way to the next rock. My feet were colder than before, as I had crossed a farther gap, so I rested longer. This time I had two rocks aside each other, and I put my feet on one while sitting on the other and using my hand for balance. It is more important to use the hand than to sit, because falling in would not be fun, so I gradually learned how to sit on rocks. Well time for the next stretch.

It got deeper then, and I looked ahead of me, now halfway to the big rock, and saw it only got deeper. At just under my knee, I felt it would be fine, but I could not think for long, because I was losing heat even faster now. Using my hands just barely keeps my body above water, and I began to panic. I felt panic was silly, but yet it happened. My body was telling my brain to stop doddling and get to moving, so I did. I got to a wider flat and gently sloped rock, and I sat on it, aiming my feet at the sun.

I had to slow my breathing to control my heart, which did not take long, but at this point it became clear that I would require focus to get to the last rock before the big rock. Having learned my fourth lesson I carried on, attempting to juggle all of my newfound experience. Thankfully, the water did not get any deeper in that section, and I got to a cluster of medium sized rocks. My heart had not raced too much, and the lack of panic allowed me to enjoy the moment, so since I required time to dry and warm up, I decided to play. I did a back bridge on one hand, like a break-dancing move, and then kicked a leg out and stretched. Then I maneuvered on the rock and then I leaned back and held my body above the water by just the arch of my back, looked upside down backwards at my friends and bicycle kicked in the air as if to say, “Look at me. I’m riding a bike!” I was taunting the river to take me, as if to say, “I am too skilled to fall.” Perhaps that was a mistake, but I do believe there is value in play. It brings joy and allows us to deal with stress. Then my friend said to come back. They wanted to leave the camp site soon, but I was so close!

I began the hardest part. The longest section lay ahead, and it looked deeper now that I was closer. The rock was so big that a lot of water went around it, and it came back together 6 feet later in a rather strong force, so I would have to break through that to carry on. I could not use my hands. I had to use my feet only, and they did slip. My movements were rather frantic to stay upright, and I found a patch of sand just in time it seemed. The sand did not feel soft. It felt like shards of glass under my foot, so I walked quickly forward on it, breaking past the point where the two strong currents come together.

Then it got deeper, and I felt it on the bottom of my torso, but there was no turning back for me. I surged forward and grabbed the rock, and I got on top of it, and I cheered. I had made it. My friends would be so proud of my success. I looked back, but I did not see my friends. They were cleaning up camp, or perhaps they were done. I was alone, and I was cold, and I wanted to get back to be with my friends. When it is time to go, it is time to go, but I needed to warm up first, so I focused on that. I focused on controlling my breathing, and then something curious happened. I had a conversation with myself, and I learned from it. I knew that this experience was necessary to teach me the life that lay ahead was going to be even tougher than this.

I felt the serenity of nature. I felt the power of the river, and I respected its place in nature. Then I looked to the shore, and quickly realized that though there were shallows 10 feet away, between that and myself was at least 6 feet of water gushing by. It only got deeper upriver, so I realized I would have to go back the way I came, and then cut towards the shore somewhere. So, I jumped in and moved quickly, coming back to near the last rock I stopped at, and quickly moving right, to the shore. The river was now deeper and faster than when I had entered, but only mid-calf. As I crossed this section, I saw under the water a beer bottle’s bottom, with a perfect circle of spiky glass resting upwards beside a rock. If my foot were placed on that rock only 2 rocks away, and slipped, I might bleed out before making it to shore. Suddenly the danger of the river became very clear to me. This would be the ultimate lesson.

I did get to the shore, but could not climb the bank, so I walked down the side of the bank in a soft shallow pooled section, where I was able to relax and look for jade. I wanted to find jade so badly. I put a few green rocks in my pocket, and carried on. Then I gave up the next section, called for my boots, and climbed up roots to get up to solid ground. I got back just in time, and I rapidly made to leave. As I walked to the vehicles a butterfly flew over my head, and as I looked back at it, I saw it flying over the river. With the way the sun cast down on it, the river, and the trees in one epic scene, I took a mental picture and I said to myself, “Remember the river,” because I knew that soon I would have to become a River Walker, to survive. I am glad to have had the opportunity to get such great practice.

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