Just yesterday we were unexpectedly invited to go on a river trip with a couple of TAM’s friends.
The mighty Upper San Juan.
Ho Hum, many a seasoned boater will yawn.
It’s not Cataract or the Lower Dolores or The Grand. There are 3 rapids in 27 miles and at this super low water level, we will be able to run those rapids without even being aware of them.
This stretch of water is not remote; the put-in is an hour of paved road driving from my house. The river corridor parallels the highway. You can check your email from almost every camp along the way.
I don’t do that. Kind of defeats the purpose of “getting away.”
There are no massive cliff walls or dripping springs or wild horses.
And yet, with all of those things not going for the San Juan River, it is the place that tugs at my soul unlike any other.
I haven’t spent a ton of time boating in the last few years – not like I used to, especially when my kids were young. And it’s been years since I’ve floated my home river.
My friends, K, K, Dodo – we ran laps aboard rafts, sometimes one weekend after another. We were on a first name basis with the oxygen sucking woman at the permit office and the sexy, charming river ranger, who was married to a woman who felt the same way as I do about the gift of 500 cfs in the middle of the desert. She wrote about it, sang its praises, put words to the feelings evoked by the quiet meanderings of silt washed down from the red cliff walls. We became friends, bonding over shared emotions stirred by the existence of a teradactyl-like blue heron guiding a boat downstream.
This is the river that raised my children. They joyously ran naked along these beaches with their friends, forming lasting relationships with other feral children and with this river, canyon, landscape.
We’ve camped on the banks of the San Juan more often than any other single place. Boating or car camping, the sand, the cottonwoods, the geese, the ravens, the sound of subaqueous rocks shifting with the current – these are the elements that have given my children and me a sense of place.
The silty water, the shady trees, the quietude, combined with the easy access to a locale just an hour from my house, have given me an escape when the world has been too harsh for me to endure.
My family has built forever-friendships here. My children have hunted for plastic eggs filled with rocks and flowers left by The Spring Bunny in the crevices of limestone in the sinewy Perched Meander. We have hunkered down in our tents for days on end waiting out snow storms playing Mad Libs and drinking Fresca, the river treat of choice.
My friendships – the three most valued of my adult life – were, if not formed, then certainly solidified, on this corridor of water, surrounded by layers of red and ochre and buff. We have shed tears, laughs, and tequila on the shoreline.
After the divorce, I ceremoniously tossed my wedding band into the depths. Perhaps some child will catch a catfish and find treasure in its belly.
In the midst of a nervous breakdown, the only place where I could find solace, the few times I found any peace, was a beach, with a ginourmous cottonwood and a cliff wall loaded with ravens’ nests and bullet holes; a place where my sorrows and instability washed downstream leaving me drained but sane.
This is where I want my ashes to go when I die.
I’m rowing MY boat. The boat that I won in the divorce. I gave up a lot of other things in the process, including the power tools and my marbles, but I was determined to get the raft.
That and my children.
My boat. My river. My place.
Peace. Joy. Contentment
I said to my son, the river guide that has traveled many a liquid mile across the deserts of the Southwest, “It feels like home.”
He said, “That’s such a good way of describing it, Mom. It is home.”
My excitement about returning brings tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.