Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still it explains nothing.
It is mid-October and we are now Day Two into our three days rafting the Rogue. At this point, we are immersed. We spend a majority of our waking hours using the kinetic energy of water and the gravitational pull of the ocean to pull us along. The canyon walls rise high overhead, cutting off direct sunlight but illuminating triangles of sloping rock, which dive deeply into the channel ahead. The top of the canyon seems stories tall, unreachable. What would we see if we scrambled to the top, and peered over the other side? Forest? Another secret river? An amusement park? Home? We are wrapped in the cozy embrace of our here and now…The Rogue in its wild water and dripping walls and brave trees that cling to rock, somehow.
Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Kingfishers all take turns hunting the river, zig-zagging from one rim to the other far overhead. We catch them in moments of startled amazement or joyous abandon, wings outstretched in soaring flight. They join us in our fun, our relaxation and our laughter, playing along with us. But we know the real fierceness of these predators. But we will not see it. Hunting time will not be now.
Around Horseshoe Bend, we float lazily along a narrow channel. Ageless, smooth boulders line both sides, weathered and worn in bowls and holes from thousands of years of perpetual motion. Our boat is the only one here and we drink in the silence of the placid river ahead. We can hardly see ahead with the afternoon sunshine lingering low in the sky and piercing our vision. Looking back, I see our companions, two other rafts weighed down with our provisions and luxuries. We float with the current, letting her take us where she goes. Light hits the channel in a clear stream, making yellow leaves dance lazily as they make their way to the gliding water.
We make it to camp soon enough, a wide sand bar with a sweeping view of the opposite bank. We pitch tents, unpack our food, set up our kitchen, and divvy up duties. Paul has gone on a walk upstream but returns quickly, telling stories of bears close by. Andy and I jump up, following him. A quarter mile from camp, we see a mother bear and cub across the channel from us, lumbering crossways, a spot of black and brown fur against autumn leaves and brown grass. We watch, transfixed, as they move quickly uphill, faster than we ever could, and disappear onto the other side of the ridge. We walk slowly back to camp. I realize we are not home anymore; we are in someone else’s.
At 3:00 am, I wake to the telltale sound of a rainstorm and my brave comrades cursing their luck that this was the night they chose to sleep under the stars. It is our first rain of the season, and man do we need it. We’ve had months on end of dry and hot weather and the wetness falling from the sky is unexpectedly glorious. Cozy in my winter sleeping bag, I tip my proverbial hat to pluviosity and listen to the soothing sound of raindrops falling on vinyl overhead. By 7:00, water is still falling in sheets from the sky and we know what’s needed. We have to get out of here. We pack up as fast as we can, shoving wet tents and clothes into dry bags, eating soggy eggs and burnt bacon. The particularity in which we had packed just two days before goes out the window in our hurry to leave. Wet things go into dry bags and our rain coats are dripping and muddy as we dress under a rudimentary shelter up the hill from our camp. Finally everything is packed and we push off from the bank, onward!
The river reaches its ultimate state of beauty in the rain. The channel accepts the rain drop by drop, capsules of wetness contained in translucent orbs that break surface tension and somehow stay intact. I watch every drop transfixed, as water accepts water. With every movement from the oar, bubbles also escape from the depths and are unleashed to the surface. Rain wets everything, bubbles of water both falling in and jumping out, landing on skin and Gortex alike. For once, the rain doesn’t bother me. Everything is wet and you don’t have to worry about being wet when you already are. We pass around a flask of whiskey to stay warm.
We scout out the rapids like surveyors, amodern day Lewis and Clark. Far below, our captains survey our route through rapids that roil the water into foam. Scouting pays off, because with a few strokes from our paddles, we skirt by obstacles, brushing oars with boulders taller than the average man. Just saying hello. Kingfishers cheer us on, gunshot-calls echoing off the walls of the canyon. Otters and bears are our companions; we wave hello, promising that we are just visiting. We will leave them alone soon enough. They let us know that they are there and we get to know their calls and their symbols. Hour after hour, we are water, we are with water, we are one with water. When we see our pull-out, we are hardly ready to leave, but the clouds are parting, finally, and we are welcomed to land once more.
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