Sunday, November 30, 2008

The River of the Water of This Life

Early in our marriage, before children, Pat and I took a road trip through Maine. One of our stops was in The Forks, where the Dead River joins the Kennebec.

The idea was to raft the Kennebec, putting in north of The Forks, just below the dam near Indian Pond. It was early morning. Sun just up. The dam and the put-in were in a gorge a few hundred feet high, the rock walls intensifying the water’s roar. The water was hilly, as we stood there on the bank, the hills standing considerably above our heads, and the declivities below them a bit dark and obscure.

In other words, we were terrified. It was our first time in serious white water. We entered the raft a bit shaky in the knees and voices and sinews. We felt absolutely swallowed already by the end-of-time noise the water made. Death was here. The great huge potentiality of death. Death was everywhere in the blackness of the water. In the shaded darkness of the frothy white.

But there was also a liveliness. An intensity and immediacy and presence and energy that one associates with life itself. An elemental quickness and the possibility of comedy, of a tour de force ending, in which all things turn out well, some distance down river, where the walls diminish and the fields open up and the sun pours in.

We paddled with the rest of the people in our raft. I think there were seven of us altogether. As we began to nose over into our first major rapid—Magic Falls—I thought surely I would die, it was so deep and dark and shiny and glistening. While the rest of the people sensibly held on, both Pat and I flipped up and out at the base of the fall, suddenly swimming in a souse hole large enough to miniaturize a Greyhound bus.

After a time. What seemed like a day or two. We bobbed to the surface and floated, submerged by standing wave after standing wave, for. Oh. I don’t know. What seemed like a very long way. Thinking. Thinking what? Of course that we would surely die. Thinking all the while how difficult breathing ends up being when one is submerged. How difficult life is when lived underwater.

Isn’t that what living’s like? Normal living? Sometimes? School and work and marriage and children and family and friends type of living? Being alone type of living? Being asked to do more than one can possibly do type of living? All of it’s hard sometimes. The whole blessed trip. One feels like one cannot get one’s breath, one is so submerged in the days that come over one like so many standing waves.

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