There was a beautiful three quarters moon beaming at me inbetween clouds in the southwestern sky as I walked to the bridge where I put in. I was surprised to hear my name break the silence. It was a neighbor, and we had a nice chat about our morning rituals—me floating, her walking. The overcast sky was not threatening, but gave a calming blanket to the early hour, the kind of mellow morning where if you looked out the window from your bed and knew it was a weekend, you’d roll back under the covers and relish taking a slow start.
Since I had no obligation to be working at a job site, I opted for a slow float and early in tackled another large eyesore of four months, a mangled heavy duty floatation/raft tightly wrapped up in a mulberry tree. As I headed to the bank I noticed a fisherman I’d encountered a few other mornings, casting and slowly wading in my direction.
I hadn’t come prepared with implements so was left to poke at the stiff cluster with sticks. I loosened a small bit but could tell it wasn’t coming easily. I decided to climb my way up and tackle it directly. It was like a giant version of those little metal “Chinese Puzzles” we had to try and get apart as kids. The tough plastic dutifully resisted ripping. I was considering asking the fishing fellow if he had a knife I could borrow, but then realized I could snap some limbs and it began to loosen. A few careful flips and all at once the knotted morass let loose and with a Whoosh! plopped to the bank. I heard a loud “There you go!” from my morning colleague.
I collected the mass and began to trudge across the section of river, tube in one hand, trash in the other, with the intent to set it on the Greenway side for my removal later. A few steps in I was a bit stunned to realize it was unusually deep (near four feet!) in that very section, and for an instant wondered if my iPhone was tightly in its pouch, and securely in my pocket. But then, it was already too late, so I let go the worry and forded across. To my delight, the friendly fly-caster generously offered to take the bundle and toss it in his truck and drop it in the trash. I was most grateful and suggested even if he just got it near a trash bin by the parking lot, our excellent city crews had told me they will take things away from there. He and I’d seen each other several times as I floated past him other mornings, but barely exchanged names.
As I was carried downstream, I was stunned to see the sun break through the haze like a giant glowing butterfly. I stopped a couple more times to pluck bits of annoying plastic. (To be clear, my actions are no more noble than when anyone picks up an errant coke bottle or beer can on the sidewalk—And thank you for doing so!) But, after dislodging that large looming debris, perhaps also because I had consciously slowed down even more than usual, or maybe the humid cool, quiet morn had cast a magical spell that encouraged me to go inward, somehow I was aware I felt changed.
The sun was soon shining brightly and everything seemed alive and refreshed for the rest of the float. Each of the next few times I pulled to the bank to snatch this or that bit of litter, after I did, I stood in the water for several minutes, and in those instances felt something potent. I didn’t sit on the bank, wasn’t floating; I just stood calf deep, with the cool current swirling against my legs, the warm sun on my skin, rushing water sounds and bird chirps cascading into my ears, all my senses attentive, but not thinking. I simply “took in” the presence of the river. Within this, I felt a strikingly powerful sensation: THIS is what I am to be doing, right here. It was a wordless knowing that lingers still. Maybe because of the soft symphony of so many physical sensations, it wasn’t quite the same as meditation. The only recent experience that’s touched my core in a similar way has occurred when in the arms of someone I loved. I really can’t explain it further. As I reached the endpoint of my float, two dear friends were passing on the greenway and we exchanged a brief but heartfelt and joyous greeting. Another reminder: we’re all interwoven and deserving of supportive friendships on our journey.
Later that morning I met a friend for coffee on my porch and we spoke at length about all sorts of things, thorny and sweet. We agreed that we had to laugh at the ironies in life or we’d never stop crying. We talked of shifts in our “careers,” professions and relationships, and changes for each of us in our evolving sense of purpose as creative people. Certainly for me COVID has increased my desire to apply myself in a meaningful way before I’m gone. When I retold the tale above, she insightfully pointed out that the trash that had gnawed at me, deposited by a fierce storm and flood, hung and bound tightly, in my semi-awareness and yet passed by for months, was a great metaphor. Even the extra effort to disentangle it, get it loose, and the sudden cathartic release were loaded with symbolism.
We all have things that intentionally or not end up trapped in our emotional psyche. Often we’re not aware of them, yet I think they still affect us. Even as we become aware, until we make the effort to see them, address them, dislodge them in some fashion that changes the dynamic, we’re destined to carry their weighty tangled burden within us.
It was a team gesture clearing the trash from the waterway (myself, Ryan, the City crews) and this is another important metaphor—we need to do our own work but I also need to accept others’ offers of help). I suspect my deep appreciation and non-intellectualized sensing of the river’s presence, resulted from an awareness in some larger unconscious part me. Some aspect sensed I’ve been working to untangle and remove some blocks in my life, and it’s creating space in my being. It’s as if the ongoing, seemingly unresolved trials and efforts toward resolution of several months, suddenly, indirectly, were beginning to “clear.” Perhaps the confluence of a small symbolic accomplishment, followed by the unhurried quiet interactions in the water, bright sunshine glimmering on incredibly idyllic scenes, came together in some mysterious yet perfectly natural way, and opened the gateways for cleansing waters to flood my being. Although words fall short to describe the sensations, it was as if for a brief few moments, the restorative energies of the earth had an opportunity to seep deeply into my being and (unexpectedly) I suddenly felt utterly at peace.