From the time I was very young I drew comfort and inspiration from the rivers and woods of the Ozarks region of NW Arkansas and SW Missouri. One of my earliest memories is of a particular float trip with my parents on the Buffalo river. Caught in a swift current, the canoe flipped and my father caught me, mid-river, as the canoe and my mother careened off downstream. Making a swift decision, he tossed me to shore, where a stranger caught me, then half-swam half-surrendered so the current could sweep him out to rescue first my mom then the wayward canoe. It was an exercise in trust which may still be a profound part of who I am today and my willingness to assume the best of people (i.e. my father who did not let us drown and that stranger who tenderly cared for me rather than perpetrating all the lewd and evil acts my mother had warned me of when it came to strangers.)
From that time forward, the Buffalo River, and beautiful lands and tributaries surounding her, were a source of entertainment, education, solace, and adventure. During difficult times I would often disappear for hours at a time to my favorite limb, which looped out and suspended me halfway between the sky and the creek below. I would gather unique rocks in pockets and bows of trees. I would grind the soft ones into poweder for various colored "paint." I would 'track' animals through the woods, climb bluffs, explore quartz crystal encrusted caverns, and imagine what it would be like to survive out there on my own.
It was not always rainbows and butterflies. I encountered critters on occasion, including a skunk from which I escaped but my dog did not (leaving her banned for several days to the wood shed,) and a bear which gave me little more than a curious glance then ambled on it's way leaving me quaking and in awe. I also found myself atop a crumbling stone wall which collapsed and left me inches away from a fall to almost ceratin death. But the river herself sang a song my young heart knew how to answer and even though I scarce recognized it at the time, she helped to shape and mold my curiosity, creativity, and courage in ways I would need often on the challenging path ahead.
Somewhere in my teen/early adult years I lost touch with the magic of life, including those childhood safehavens. For numerous reasons, the years began to slip by with only occasional, brief time spent outdoors anywhere other than the park or zoo; no camping, hiking, canoeing, or spelunking. I feel some regret at not having shared these experiences with my children when they were younger, but I am comforted to know that they are beginning to develop their own relationship with the river, even now.
In 2008, my family began to change dramatically. Divorce, children moving in new directions, and all the changes that came with learning to be independant forced me to evaluate what the important elements of my life are and what the shape of my future was going to be. One of the changes I needed to make was to recover my connection with the river, the land, and my own deep roots. Another was to begin traveling to the places I have long ached to see, many of which contain natural splendor all their own.
I dived in by taking a trip to Moab, Utah to hike with Daniel Nahmod (an incredible new thought musician) during his "Water" retreat (mildly ironic in the desert...but the canyons were, of course, carved by water and thus inspired some incredible songs about surrender among other topics.) A few months later I took a road trip to St. Louis with my son and his girlfriend for a concert (and the birthing of brilliant comic strip about hobo zombies, which Braden will be writing, um...any day now. I'm certain of it.) Add to that a wild, five state tour which landed me in places like the quirky, artsy Yellow Springs, OH; a Blues Festival on the river where my 5 year old daughter revealed her spooky ability to channel Janis Joplin while dancing; and yielded my first visit to the fabulous establishment that is Trader Joes (cue divine chorus.)
I also began to canoe, hike, and camp again...usually along the Buffalo river. She remembered me, of course, and we began to exchange things: my tears and stories for her soothing embrace and clarity inducing energy. My labor (picking up trash, assisting people along the way) for her offerings of unique stones and artistic inspiration. My blood and sweat for heart palipatating views, healing breezes, and the re-discovery of my amazing strength. My life song for her acient one.
Now, having become reacquainted during these healing visits, I plan to continue not only exploring the trails and rapids of my home river, but to trace and discover the beauty and adventure offered (by extraordinary places near and far) to those of us willing to take chances, brave challenges, listen deeply, and sweat whenever necessary. The reward? Peace. Joy. Fresh air. Nice calves.