It’s been a quiet summer. My only thoughts have been of work and essential chores. I made no plans to travel, and confined myself to home. The most vivid moments I remember were sitting outside looking across the pasture at dusk. My work has seemed halting and has fought me every day. In my isolation I made abstractions out of my relationships and pushed those abstractions away both in my mind, and by my actions. I knew I was temporarily lost but would find myself again. I even knew how to find myself, and yet chose not to. Perhaps sometimes one needs to be lost and stay lost.
It was clear all along that if I’d only pack up some gear and head into the woods everything would right itself. I set a date to do that at last, and counted the days.
It wasn’t an elaborate challenging backpacking expedition in rough terrain. It was the simplest, pleasantest, most ordinary kind of journey. But like the wake behind my kayak, the wide wedge of cause and effect is easy to look back and see.
There is a state park where, for three decades, I have gone with my friends, my young children, and their friends to camp in a valley beside the New River. By now it is as familiar to me as my own living room. I know exactly what to take, what to do once there to make myself happy. This time I took one of my dearest friends, and with our gear and kayaks and we settled in for a weekend of Returning to Self.
Good summer food was cooked and eaten. Sleep was deep in the din of rushing water sounds, insect hum, bird calls. Best of all there was no cell phone signal and we shoved off from the shore of the culture,into a remote and unpopulated river of peace.
In the absence of commerce, traffic, internet, telephone and television we resorted to face to face conversation. Hours of it. There was reading out loud. There was the work of very simple daily life.
I realized in the middle of the night last week, in my bed, that I probably own, among many other things, 150 cloth napkins. I am these days devoting myself to the maintenance, storage and keeping of thousands of objects, most of which are superfluous. On this uncomplicated weekend there was, instead, one towel. One knife. One light. It didn’t take much of my time to maintain this household. Instead I watched the world. I floated fast down the swollen river in my kayak and felt the wonderful rhythmic swing of the oars in my arms and all the way back to my heart. I observed the way raindrops look against a misty far away background. I listened to the voice of my friend.
The river seemed to wash me clean, though there was abundant river mud between my toes. I get weepy thinking about the preciousness of that time, the embrace I felt in the bent arm of that river, the perfect invitation to life.
Mama, a character every minute of her life, used to use an old southern phrase to describe a person of material wealth. She would say “he’s rich as rivah mud”. I know in my bones a deeper meaning for that phrase. Today I am rich as river mud myself.