April – Homecoming

April, this final month in a yearly round that has stretched from just south of the Arctic Circle to the Mexican border, from deep wilderness to manicured flows, from nearly a month in length to only a few days, from solo outings to shared adventure . . . this month felt like a home coming. It also feels deeply satisfying, in a time where so little is certain or predictable or normal. Just to get one in feels like an accomplishment.

It was a home coming because it was close to home, the put-in only a two hour drive away. Sawyer drove us down to Twin Bridges, helped us unload, and did our shuttle. It was home coming because I shared it with my partner in life, my partner in boats, Marypat. It was a kind of home coming in that we took in an entire watershed, the Jefferson River, from source to mouth, and ended up 30 miles from our driveway at the confluence of the three great rivers that make up the Missouri. It felt like a return in other ways, too, a return to the way we started out boating together – in open, loaded tandem canoes. We added Beans, our three-legged, eighteen-year-old dog into the mix.

We took our time. The trip is just under 100 miles, but this time of year, the flow is clipping along at 6-7 miles an hour. We took it in five days, surrounded by the pelicans and sandhill cranes, the black-necked stilts and avocets, the soaring eagles and osprey, accompanied by the ceaseless spring clamor of Canada geese. It is a route that flirts with ranch roads, diversion dams, borders highways, goes under the interstate. It is a mark of ‘river time’ that all of that civilized clutter went away, evaporated. If we’d gotten in trouble, no one would have saved us. The people in houses overlooking the river had no connection to our camps in the willows, with flocks of pelicans coasting in to an eddy and urgently herding fish, or with the night sky with a crescent moon and bright planet, with the schussing river gliding past, rolling downhill.

For five days we escaped the surreal world of insane politics, fear of death, economic woes, and no firm sense of the future. We rode the timeless currents, shared the boat together as we have for almost 40 years and thousands of miles now. We pampered our old dog, carried him around camp, let him sleep with us in the tent. We let the sun rise, shared coffee, played cribbage, read books, watched birds. The river bore us along, heeding gravity in its endless, seamless way, allowing us to ride its back.

Homecoming. Cycles. Seasons. A shared life full of current and canoe hulls and campfires, silence and companionship, support and challenge, comfort. This year is through, but it doesn’t feel like closure.

Rivers are rising everywhere, beckoning. The boat waits. What’s so sacred about a year anyway? Maybe we should make it two . . .

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