Ruled By Water

Lately, my days have been ruled by water. I wake after a night of dreaming of downstream “v”s and wave trains and the swirl of where main current meets eddy. My conversations revolve around flow levels and “gnarly holes” and the current impact of snow melt on every river near the Sierras. With every motion I make, I’m aware of my body, sore and aching from using muscles long atrophied from disuse, from moving rubber and people through rapids and around rocks after more than a decade of not doing so. 

I awake thinking of the river, of the day ahead, of what I can wear that will keep me warm in 40 degree water on a blustery day. I end the day exhausted and replete, joyfully windswept and shivering and eager for a hot shower and an enormous meal and an early bedtime. My world has suddenly become dominated by the tactile and physical, intimately connected to weather and movement and reliant on my sensory awareness and response.

It’s a recollection on so many levels. A recollection of what it is to be so very connected to my own physicality and also a recollection of a less insulated existence. I love inclement weather, I always have (I blame a childhood spent enthralled by the descriptions of English moors and Scottish heather and Irish rain and New England snow that dominated the books I was obsessed with), and I will always thoroughly enjoy sitting within the confines of cozy home/bookstore/cafe sipping something steamy from a mug and looking out upon the weather from my warm and dry shelter. But I’d forgotten how much I love this too, this being out in the middle of that weather, a part of it, of squinting rain out of my eyes as I keep the shivering at bay by pure exertion. Or the flip side, the beating sun in this high desert, the juxtaposition of scorching air and icy runoff that splashes up with each wave we punch through. All of it a recollection of a me who didn’t always spend so many days looking out upon the world from behind her computer, a recollection of a me who knew more precisely where her body and mind intersected in space, how her physical and intellectual could become entwined to cope with challenges. 

And there are challenges aplenty. This is hard. Much harder than I’d anticipated and for reasons I’d never considered. I expected it to be physically challenging…it’s not exactly rocket science to imagine that I would get quite a workout guiding rafts after all this time and that there would be some soreness and exhaustion. But I underestimated how many fears I would be facing down daily, how many perceptions about myself I’d have to look more closely at and take responsibility for. It was easy to talk about my “glory days” as a river guide in the past, to hold that identity as part of the narrative about how I became my current me. It was easy to remember that I’d once been really quite good at it, that I was a leader and had solid knowledge born of day-in-and-day-out experience and immersion. I knew water back then, deep and sure. But to come back after all this time so far away from it is to expose myself to the very real possibility that I not only might be “rusty” and out of shape, but also that I have changed so much in the intervening years that the water might not speak to me in any real way anymore. It was one thing to have walked away from that life all those years ago, another to realize that it might not have any place for me now. Or that the me and the life I’ve built over these last years might have no place for rivers. And what of my creative work? Where does that work fit into these days spent on the water? Can I fall exhausted into my bed each night and still find the energy and motivation to create? Must I choose between them? Who am I in this swirl of past and present, of exterior and interior life and work? 

The only answer I have is that I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what the balance looks like or whether I’m doing the right things or making a mess. I don’t know if I’m being brave by confronting the barrage of fears and insecurities that show up each day or if the mean-girl voice in my head that keeps whispering that this is what a mid-life crisis looks like is right. I just don’t know. I don’t know if I can regain enough skill to become a good guide again in these three short months. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to get out of this. I don’t know if neglecting my business for three months will be recoverable or if I’m setting myself up for failure and regret later. I actually just don’t know any of the answers.

But I am moving forward anyway. On trust, mostly. Trust that there is room and space in myself and my life for all of this. That there are cycles to all things, creativity and business and personal identity included, and that stepping back from my business just a bit to dedicate these months to water will actually allow greater clarity and focus when I return. That this version of me has very different lessons to learn from this time working on water than my twenty-something self did, but that they will be just as valuable. That the joyful thrumming I feel despite all the work and fear and difficulty is a sign that I am doing something right. Trust that I have enough courage inside of me to face whatever I find as I move through these choices and these changes and these fears. 

Luckily, lately my days have been ruled by water. And if there is a better daily reminder that trying to control everything or that working against natural flow is a fruitless endeavor, I don’t know what it is. I feel alive and in touch with every part of myself right now, which feels a bit strange and foreign, but also just absolutely lovely. I’m exhausted on pretty much every single level. But it’s a deeply satisfying exhaustion, a kind of bone-deep weariness that comes from reaching all the way into the depths, of working hard and honestly and past my perceived limitations. I am immersed once again in the rhythms of water and seasons, and such, can trust that my own rhythms and cycles also have purpose and intrinsic value.

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More images from our transition time between Texas and Nevada. If you ever find yourself in southern New Mexico, be sure to carve out time to see White Sands National Monument. It is simply magical.

Arrived

We arrived in Reno last night after driving for hours with the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains hugging our left side. They are glorious things to behold, those mountains, and between that view and the sound of the Truckee River that I can hear from where I sit writing this morning, I have high hopes for our time tucked in here on the California-Nevada line.

We’ve been on the road for the last couple of weeks, wandering through wide open spaces devoid of much human noise. It’s been utterly lovely to have “No Service” show up on my phone when I reach for it automatically, a gentle reminder to put it down, to look out my window at that big sky, to engage in conversation or companionable silence without distraction. 

In several places along our drive, road signs admonished us to turn off our air conditioning lest we overheat and we realized just how long it had been since we’d rolled our windows down and thrown our arms out into the wind while sliding along two-lane highways at breakneck speeds. How many ways must I learn that insulated comfort is rarely the best path?

I shot hundreds of photos and I will share many of them here over the next few weeks. But I also put my camera down sometimes. There was a night in Big Bend when we’d gone out to photograph the stars in that dark sky where so little man-made light interferes, only to remember that we were mere days from the full-moon, it’s celestial light dimming the stars. So I packed up my camera and instead we stood still in the middle of the road, alone and silent. We looked out over a teeming desert landscape, glowing in the moonlight, and we listened. We heard no cars. Or trains. Or planes. We heard no sounds of man. But over the cicadas and nocturnal rustlings and mysterious tiny crunches, we heard the yipping of coyotes nearby and finally one long, lovely howl at that moon before the pack moved away. It was some time before we could stir from that magic and days before the awe of it faded. 

We are excited to investigate this new temporary home, to see what lies beyond the casino reputation, to cast for trout in this river and rest our cheeks against the ponderosa pines in these mountains. To redefine “home” once again and to do our work, the work of being here, the work of learning and growing and embracing transition and fleetingness.