Monday, June 7, 2010

The River


If you get a chance to raft or kayak the East Carson river, do it.  Even if it is May and the water is 40 degrees and the air is 55.  Put on a dry suit, get in that boat and push off.

Even though you are celebrating your mother's 68th birthday
and your 11 year old daughter, who used to perch on your prow, will be piloting her own craft,
don't think of the river as a metaphor for the inexorable flow of time.  It is not a metaphor.  

It is a river.  In fact, it is a cold and dangerous river.

Put your younger children on the raft where your brother will take good care of them.
And they'll get some quality time with Gran and Grandpa...
...as they ride the river that is not a metaphor, but a real river, whose steep banks rise up on either side corralling clouds of swallows or else flatten into meadows incomplete without glaring bulls.
Don't worry.  Your husband knows what he is doing in that newish hard shell.
And your little girl who used to hate getting splashed will deftly steer her kayak past caves carved in the soft basalt--caves carved over thousands, perhaps even millions of years, into rock that is much harder than she or you--not that you are thinking about that.
She will avoid the rocks and strainers.  
Your brother will portage her around this menacing one, just to be on the safe side.

But she will still hate getting splashed.  Time doesn't change everything.

When you are ten miles in, camp at the hot springs.  Soak in the 102 degree water.
It'll feel great after that spill you took into the river while trying to snap a photo.  And after all, how many opportunities will you get to do that?  To soak in a natural hot spring on the banks of a rushing river that is not a metaphor for the swift passage of time?

Your eldest will take out a pocketknife and carve the fanciest  four pronged marshmallow stick ever.  
And you will eat marshmallows.

With luck your brother's girlfriend will manage to get leave from her work--shocking Lake Tahoe fish--and get to go with you.  You'll be happy because not only is she great fun, but she is also a spectacular cook, and she will be making a pineapple upside down birthday cake over the fire.
.
Don't let her get poked in the eye with a stick, though.

She won't be able to really focus on that cake.  (It'll be pretty darned good anyway.)
And she'll be in too much pain to kayak the next day.
Over breakfast the next morning.  Don't look at your littlest and tell her, your voice going all bittersweet, that it won't be long until she'll be paddling her own kayak.  Just let her enjoy her cinnamon french toast in peace, for goodness' sake.
In the same vein, don't tell your older children that even if you do this trip every year from now on, you'll only get to do it 6 or 7 times before they go to college.  Restrain yourself, even though, the way their chairs are set next to the fire, you can see the river behind them, flowing relentlessly on.  
As you get back on the river and contemplate those snow capped mountains, don't think about what the river is carrying you toward.  Sure, Ruhenstroth Dam is before you.  
Yes, it is a broken dam and none of you would survive the plunge over the waterfall.  But, unlike the destination of that metaphoric river, the plunge is well marked, and you'll know when it's coming.

So, if you do ever get the chance to raft and kayak the East Carson River, go.

It's a river, not a metaphor.

Enjoy the ride.

5 comments:

Carolyn said...

Beautiful, Susan. I can't explain why just now but I really needed to read that. Thank you.

J.G. Wilder said...

Time to have another one.

Well, maybe not -- but you have perfectly captured that bittersweet sense of losing the kids even as we are helping them grow. We don't want you to grow up! No, wait, that's not what we meant.

poornima said...

I am having the same mixed feelings since N is turning nine today!

Christine said...

That was great fun! I hope the next time we do it....I will have both my eyes :)

Kristin said...

This is a great story and quite a family adventure. We've visited that river too, but in a much warmer season. It's famed for fishing and so beautiful there. I can't believe how menacing the sky looks in the last photo. It looked fun, except, is your brother's girlfriend's eye okay?