We walked out into the cool morning air and put into the cooler waters near 7 AM. Early in we were treated to a green heron stalking breakfast; the conspicuous drama of life begetting life. Each time we began to get close enough to see it really clearly, it moved up the riverbank keeping a careful distance. The beautiful markings on the gorgeous maroon-headed, golden-toed fellow revealed their purpose when it alighted in a tree to avoid us. The secretive creature merged perfectly into the foliage and would’ve disappeared completely if I hadn’t happened to carefully note where it had perched. This ability to hide served a purpose, allowing it to safely become a part of the bank itself. It essentially merged into the growth, protected from us, the unknown.
It was invisible yet still a presence in that tree; albeit an indefinable one until or unless we had specifically followed its journey.
Only after our float did Hunter remind me of his childhood friend of 20 years who died just a few years ago in these same waters where we were floating. I’d already been conscious of another friend’s son who also died along the route (all the more tragically both were not yet in their mid-20s, the same age as my son). I do try to remember to honor him in my mind each time as I set in to float.
Like the elusive heron, unless we followed the complete circumstances leading up to their deaths, they remained a barely felt, mostly hidden presence, merged within the ever-changing banks, (keeping their essence safe)? Perhaps they hovered somewhere, but unless I made a conscious effort, they were mostly beyond my awareness. Their presence and unseen energies were now merged with the land, flowing within this ancient river. Yet also to some degree still carried in our hearts.
It’s a heavy topic that I know colored this first ever Roanoke River float of Hunter’s. Still, as we went the full route he allowed himself room to quietly come to terms with these challenging feelings. His comments focused on the fun of the light rapids, the sunrise, and the unique multi-sensory beauty. Only when we walked home did he share the powerful emotions with which he’d been grappling. He hadn’t denied them, and the healing is ongoing, as this friend had been part of Hunter’s entire young life, but he honored his friend and himself in giving them room to be felt.
It’s precisely this ability to be sensitive to his challenging feelings, not fear them nor deny them, yet allow himself room to absorb them, coupled with his wise way of transforming such tough realities into a desire to live MORE fully, that makes me so appreciate being around this impressive young friend. In addition, until he shared his fears, it hadn’t occurred to me how much courage it took for him to even enter into this float, on this for him, hallowed spot. Gracias to you Hunter, and the family that molded you into the very fine, admirable person you are, gracias.
We had a few moments to share in a coffee after the float. As we were in the local shop, the mother of one of these two children, a friend to us both, entered. Uncanny? I no longer think so. In fact, thinking seems inadequate. We hugged. We parted ways, merging into the world, each of us touched by the other, allowing this river of life to carry us forward into the unknown.