Words by Madeline Friend
Photo by Emerald LaFortune
For those of us who spend the sweaty summer months on the water and the blustery winter ones dreaming about it, river metaphors are nothing new. We know to go with the flow. We know to follow the path of least resistance. We know we never step in the same river twice.
As guides, we come to the river for many reasons: for camaraderie, for pleasure, for challenge, for love, for the ability to work and live in places we connect to viscerally. We lean into intentional community because we thrive on the water, and this is where those communities happen for us. Learning from the river is unavoidable. Every eddy, every camp, every hole is a new opportunity to understand the deeper forces guiding both the river and ourselves.
A river’s resiliency is not its most alluring aspect, nor its most visible. Glassy waves and big water often overshadow the river’s staunchness. It is steadfast. Dam or not, the river still runs downstream. As much as we try to bend it to our whim, in the long term, we never can. Through the ages before us and those after, the river teaches us passively. It does not beg for attention, nor does it force understanding. The river’s very being is its testament: it is here.
Because the river exists, we can be here. We appreciate where we are because we know where we have been. We have been on the water, in the water, with the water. Each droplet tells a story: peaks where it was birthed, sediments it carried, dams it crashed against, logs it swept along, boaters it gleefully played with. The story of water cultivates ours.
When we can’t find our way home, when home is no more and no less than four wheels and a paco pad, when our eyes are bleary and our ears prickle at the coffee call: we wade in.
Resiliency finds us again.
The river is tenacious. The river is elastic. The river is resilient. The river is us.
The river never rejects us. Yes, it challenges: physically, mentally, emotionally, and through the unnamed parameters we can only access when we drop into that wave train, pull across current, and answer once again (as best we can, maybe with a hint of grin or grimace) just how deep the water is here. In its unmistakable style, both rough and smooth, the river always welcomes us and shows us our own resiliency is as deep as our favorite cliffside pool across from camp.
We make coffee, cook meals, inflate duckies, check buckles on PFDs, do dishes, set up the toilet, tear down the toilet, do more dishes, encourage guests to drink more water, do dishes, and oh, would you like some sunscreen? We lift heavy boxes, filter water, lead hikes, do more dishes, tell stories, sing songs, and oh yes, we row.
Oh, how we row. These magical hours on the water are where we learn, teach, and relish the river.
Though sometimes the camp scene devolves to be everything all together at once right now, darting from dish to fire to kitchen to finally zonking out on your boat, the resilient river reminds us of simple and subtle truths. We are here. Wild places matter. And the river always, always runs downstream.
We can come back to the river and to ourselves. Maybe it’s back to another season, maybe it’s back to a winter gig, and maybe it’s back to a whole new frontier: one of eddies and pour overs, wave trains and endless flatwater, and the ever-elusive downstream wind. This time, we come back with the resiliency of the river, especially when the winter dark seems to shove us down.
The river reminds us of the streams of resiliency within ourselves always, even when physically removed from her presence. As we move from guiding life into winter jobs, school stresses, and seasonal changes, we remember how we are also ever moving downstream, able to swell with snowmelt and trickle in the summer heat.
Madeline Friend is an Arizona native who loves fusing science and art through the conduit of rivers. She guides in Idaho, Arizona, and Utah. You can find her on her blog: madelinelouisefriend.wordpress.com or via Instagram: @madelinelouisefriend.