The roar reverberates through the Canyon as we drift on the glassy water above Crystal Rapid. The horizon line is broken by angry bursts of gravity-defying spray. However much we might wish to rethink this, we are committed. The Canyon walls rise a mile above us - and there are no trails leading to the rim.
We enter the tongue of the rapid and the raft picks up speed. We tighten our grips as we enter the maelstrom. There is no future or past in the midst of Crystal. There is only now, only this present, exhilarating moment. Our craft drops down a trough into a massive wave, the lights go out, and then we break through the chaos into the sunlight once again. We are ABC, Alive Below Crystal.
Dewitt and I have just returned from yet another trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. We’ve lost count of the number of trips - maybe 16 for him, 13 for me. We were married in one of the side canyons just off the River. We love it down inside this Big Beautiful Ditch.
The rapids are exciting, the biggest whitewater in North America. Some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth graces this place. Geologic time bares its soul for all to see. Still, these are not the only reasons we return again and again.
The River has lessons for us puny humans and we come for a refresher course, lest we forget what we’ve been taught. Seems we need to relearn these things over and over. What a glorious classroom and curriculum, though!
Here are a few lessons offered by the River - trust me, there are many, many more.
1. Change is the natural order.
When Heraclitus proclaimed that we never step in the same river twice, he was right on. The Colorado clarifies that precept daily. Water levels change hour to hour, morphing the quality and intensity of each rapid. Flash floods pour boulders into the river creating changes in the rapids as well as the shore. One gnarly rapid called Bedrock we found on this trip to be more technical than ever after a recent dumping of rocks. It may present major challenges for boatman in the future.
The rapids are not the only recipients of change. Some of our favorite side canyons have been scoured by flood. The travertine terraces in Havasu Canyon are crushed and begin building up again. It seems like a new place save for the pink rock and milky aquamarine water. If I want it to stay the same, I am destined to be disappointed.
Change is natural and we must adapt. That goes for life as well as the Colorado. Next time I am bemoaning change, I’ll think back to Bedrock and Havasu. I’ll find a new route and appreciate a new view.
2. Don’t fight the current.
It’s a recipe for disaster and exhausting to boot. We are all headed in the same ultimate direction: downstream. While we don’t want to just float and let the River take us without our engagement, we surely don’t want to swim upstream.
Next time I am pushing too hard and seem to be struggling, I’ll stop and reassess the flow. I’ll look for the best route while going with the flow instead of against it. I’ll try to work with the River rather than fight it. Perhaps then, my downstream journey will be elegant and skillful rather than simply fast moving.
3. Eddy out once in a while
An eddy is part of a river where the downstream current is interrupted. It can be a quiet, safe haven to rest, regroup, and revision. Boatmen know to eddy out once in a while, to rest or make a plan, to check the weather via the sat phone, or just to take a break.
When the river that is my life seems to be rushing along and there’s one rapid after another, I need to remember to eddy out and take it easy. There’s no rush. I want to enjoy my travels rather than speeding toward destinations. I want to reflect on my experiences and savor them.
While the Colorado classroom instructs us in navigating the Rivers of our lives, it also opens us up to awe and wonder. The “light that never was” (Ed Abbey), illuminates beauty beyond our most fevered imaginings. Painted rock walls, flowing waterfalls, serpentine limestone canyons, and more. We make our pilgrimage to celebrate the glory of the Grand Canyon. And we are forever changed by it.
“The song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her.” — Buffalo Joe