It is familiar, these local outings on the East Gallatin River. Every spring for 35 years I’ve done all or some of this small stream that runs fresh and boisterous for a month or two each year. We’ve already done the first link a few weeks earlier, a sketchy two-hour run on the outskirts of town, full of surprises. We had to hop out of the boats and pull around obstacles six or seven times in a few miles.
This day, Mother’s Day, in the midst of the uncertainties of life in the time of Covid, we talk Eli into joining us in a solo canoe. The river is up. The day is cool but pleasant. Everything in the valley is greening, budding, birthing, bursting with the season, while in the distance, the mountain ranges are still coated with white, cloaked in clouds.
It is as familiar as a local dog walk, but every year it is different. Around the first corner, a channel that opened up last spring is closed again. We sweep wide around a bend, dodge past a side channel blocked with a beaver dam. The eddies are deceptively strong, boils bloom up on the surface, pushy and treacherous. Eli switches to a kayak paddle for more stability. Marypat and I keep our paddles in the water, ready to brace, paddle hard to avoid sweepers and overhanging shrubbery. Just a few bends down a bull moose looks up at us from the bank, antlers just budding out, grazing in a stand of willows.
We settle in. The view switches from farm fields to golf course greens to mountain ridges. Geese flap away, drawing us from their nests. Sandhill cranes, belted kingfisher, killdeer, pelicans, red-tailed hawks. It is challenging, fast, tricky, really fun. We dive through a small diversion dam, pick our way past snags, edge around corners, ready for surprise, ram through a narrow gap in a log jam. About halfway, we stop on a gravel bar for snacks and a hot cup of tea. It is sweet to share this day with Eli, and it makes Marypat’s day.
Almost done, within sight of our car, a tree blocks the entire river. We pull in above, ready to drag around, but realize that a short haul to the road avoids the whole mess, so we go to Plan B. Same old changeable but constant river, strange new human world, a reminder of what’s going on all around us, and despite us.