Well, this year it took a while. I watched the gauge rise, saw the muddy water hurrying under bridges, itched to re-ignite my yearly spring affair with my favorite local creek, the East Gallatin. Things got in the way. April seems to have been the month of visitors this year – cousin Drake from Friday Harbor, friends from Kenya, sister Noel from Massachusetts. The weather has been unpredictable, unruly – typically springlike, in other words – so that the few times a window presented itself, it happened to be snowing or blowing like stink. And there’s work, and sloth, and whatever else keeps me from getting out the door.
But yesterday afternoon, after my last class of the semester, Sawyer showed up. It had been sleety and cold earlier in the day, and was still windy and chilly, but improving. We loaded up, drove to the edge of town and dropped in the silty, cold, rising flow. That current I have adopted over the years, that mix of hidden ambush and hairball maneuver, lovely bends, white-tail, golfers, homeless camps, scraps of old cars, beaver dams, sandhills, geese. That chance to reawaken the paddling moves, see what’s happened over the winter, when I glided past some of these same bends on cross-country skis.
For an hour or two we dissolved through the portal, left the world full of Facebook checking, SnapChatting, Instagramming, Netflix bingeing, emailing, texting, device-charging bullshit. Never mind the escape from the more existentially disturbing world of hospital bombings, kidnapped children suicide bombers, banking mischief, earthquake rubble, mass shootings, and Trump rallies. Never mind. Never mind.
No, for two hours we let our arms and paddles remember. We met and communicated through the hull of that old Dagger Legend canoe. Swinging around tight corners. Ducking underbrush. Hearing the complaints of geese, the scream of red-tail, the splash of mallard. The wind held off. Three or four times we had to scramble to shore, pull out, haul over a log jam or past an overhanging bush. We diverted down a golf course irrigation canal but decided against the culvert move – how embarrassing to endure an obituary featuring culvert decapitation.
We talked all the way. About the end of Sawyer’s college era, the angst over what’s next. About his brother and sister. About summer plans, life plans, friends, his hopes, my memories. Then there was the not-talking, just swooping around bends, skirting logs, pointing at nests, shooting through new gaps, listening to the talk of river and bank, bird and wind. Feeling the teamwork, the dance that tastes so good. Once we got out the saw and cut some overhanging branches, an inch of freeboard on our rubber boots.
What a simple thing, right? Settle into a boat on a river where no one goes and disappear into what is so real and profound and always right there at our fingertips, but that we so easily forget in the noise of life. And now, memory still brimming with it, a mile away, the East Gallatin rushes under roads, through subdivisions, past golf greens, impartial to our ‘improvements’, and my old red boat sits next to the garage, ready, always ready, whenever I am.