Sometimes I wonder, what is it about rivers that make them so special? In the Columbia River Gorge there are so many different rivers to experience, from the broad, desert Klickitat River to the intimate canyon of the White Salmon River. There are all of the amazing physical qualities of these rivers: the beautiful scenery, the exciting rapids, the calm pools. But there is so much more to a river than just those tangible qualities. One of my favorite authors, Kathleen Moore, wrote:
“A good river must be essential happiness, happiness distilled and running between high banks, because on a river, tranquility and excitement alternate every half mile, every tight cliff-bound curve, every quiet pool where white flowers float on the reflection of the sky.”
I think that the Wet Planet Staff and other river lovers in the area would agree that even more than simply reflecting our own emotions, rivers create and drive them. Spending time by a river can even help us get a handle on our own lives. Rivers provide us with the perfect space within which we can discover ourselves. In addition, the dynamic river environment is a perfect metaphor to help us comprehend the more complicated aspects our own lives.
Two of the most important things I have learned about myself from spending time on rivers are how to be humble and to trust in myself.
Humbleness comes in many forms on the river. Watching a Merganser duck swim through a class V rapid and have a cleaner line than you reminds us how little we know about the rivers we run. It reminds us that we are just visitors to this magical environment. Swimming a rapid that we have successfully run many times reminds us that we are not totally in control and always need to respect the power of the river. Looking up from the bottom of a deep gorge surrounded by miles of wilderness reminds us how small we are. The river always reminds us that we are just one small piece of the entire ecosystem.
Self-trust is born from the constant tension between challenge and success that is always present on the river. This and the fact that pretty much every river sport can be described as an individual team sport. As such, even though there are others present to support us and to give us beta, it is ultimately each individual’s choice to run a certain river or a challenging rapid. Sometimes this means deciding that the rapid is well within our skill level and we are going to crush it, but sometimes it also means just going for it even when we are nervous and a little unsure. Whether you have a challenging or successful day, the river constantly requires us to rely on our own self confidence.
On a broad level, as we are scouting rapids and picking our line, the lessons we learn can be easily applied to the rest of our lives. Rivers teach us to eddy out in the middle of a crazy rapid, or a crazy time in our lives, to take a break and reassess. Rivers teach us to adapt to the situation in from of us, because we know that running a rapid at low water can be totally different from running the same rapid at flood stage. Rivers teach us to not stubbornly ram our heads against obstacles. Instead, rivers show us how to flow smoothly around obstacles while slowly eroding and changing the obstacle. Rivers show us how to take a moment and swirl back behind the obstacle to look at it from a different angle. Rivers teach us to keep on flowing forward and downstream. Finally, rivers can teach us to accept and appreciate change. When rivers are changed by the roaring power of a flood, we can see the result as a loss of a river we knew and loved, or we can see it as an opportunity to find awesome new lines that will challenge and reward us in amazing new ways.
So whenever you are feeling a little too cocky, your confidence is crushed, or you come up against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in life, remember to eddy out and consider, “What would the river do?”
Need help translating the messages of the river? Come join Wet Planet for a rafting trip or a kayak class! Our world class, experienced staff is always excited to share their passion and river knowledge.
Author Carson Lyness‘s favorite thing about kayaking is being able to flip over and talk to the Salmon. She is part of the Wet Planet base staff, marketing team, and an all-star kayak instructor.