knowing nothing–musings on the Grand

This much I know—that I know nothing. I went on a 9 (10?) day trip on the river where the only way I was able to keep track of the day of the week was to count back from the day we launched. Dates weren’t important but it felt like July. The great equalizer had been activated. Not schooling but a pivotal, life changing experience on the river. I sucked at most things—couldn’t tie a half hitch knot to save my life. Most often I caused the other swamper trouble watching her skinny frame like a spider skittering to re-tie my knots. I became frustrated with my inability to be more effective. Agitated and completely out of my element.

Let me back up. I went on a 288 mile trip on the Colorado River from Lee’s to Pearce Ferry through the Grand Canyon. One of the seven wonders of the world. There’s this Jimmy Chin quote about how folks who haven’t been there won’t understand. Man do I feel that vibe. I’m trying to capture as best I can in a tiny little insignificant blog post. Since I’ve gotten back some things have swung right back where they were, and others are less hasty to slow down the pendulum. I guess I’m back in the social media swing of things. That pattern not so easy to break but I took about 5 days to post and I’m almost 2 weeks back and able to write about what happened.

What happened? I really don’t know. Life became different sleeping on a boat underneath the stars wrapped in my sleeping bag snoozing on my back which I hadn’t really done before. Life had always curled me into fetal position. It was the most precious rest after working 15-hour days. Back singing in pops and stretches as the wind licked my sand covered face. I picked up the habit of smoking rolled cigarettes again—finding so much solace in hunching over to save the tiny tendrils of tobacco in small gummed paper while the canyon gusts blew heavy and hard with no regard for my habits or vices. But, oh river, you are a new vice, I want to make you a habit. I stopped taking pictures right away because nothing can capture the feeling of being so insignificant.

I find the words pouring from me and I want so much to be eloquent—to do justice to what I saw, what I felt. The walls of the canyon would rise three thousand feet and any blog or anything I had to say really didn’t matter. I will die, and the Colorado will flow on spitting white caps and swirls of frothy waves mixed in with chocolate milk water of a recent flash flood. Deltas the great anxiety of life churning water tumbling through a small side canyon joining the main vein creating rapids that will capture my dreams and soul stuff. Water will move. Its not a choice. That’s the beauty of the Grand—choice is an illusion. Boatmen may go right or left but the river always dictates. Great power, great beauty.

I came back to a situation that feels like a river through the canyon of my heart. Jimmy Chin was right. I won’t be able to explain what I saw or felt until I encounter others who have been there. I find myself paying $85 in therapy not to talk about money, family, relationships, but to really process the transformative power of the river. I find it super energy sucking to have a partner who discounts everything I say and considers me a threat. I’ve stopped talking about the rivers of my mind a long time ago. He cannot navigate the wave train of my inner thoughts. And so I left them on the sandy beaches of a muddy river. I cried one night after a hard, salty day and blamed it on the wind and sand. They are so infinite they don’t mind. I stop even worrying if he understands me or not. There’s my shit, there’s other shit, and there’s collective shit. This is river shit.

I find friends falling apart around me and I keep saying GET OUT get out in nature stop the thought festering. Work so hard that your body and brain quit stewing on the small shit. It’s all small shit. Even death. The walls of the Canyon are millions of years old and watching the layers for 288 miles really helps to melt away the anxiety I create in my life. I’m a little bothered by letting my partners friend come stay with me. But once she got here I could see the shadow of her thoughts rise up like stifling canyon walls. She’s been hurt. She’s dealing with a Lava Falls of the heart. She’s so human and if I could somehow buy her, her friend, and her son a way on the Grand—I would. Its so hard to relate the healing of the river other than through experience.

And I suppose in failing at words, in mostly failing at living a conventional life—that is my wish for all. Get out. Feel small. Feel stupid. Feel tired. Feel the sand in your teeth, your hair. Feel the rapids move your spine like a noodle, feel the water rush between your toes, feel the sun softening its hot kiss as it moves around the corner of the next cliff. Feel as if you couldn’t possibly do anything as well as nature and perhaps know that its true. Let go of spinning thoughts and let the rapids churn the rocks of your mind into beautiful formations and then let them go. Let it all go. And know that knowing nothing is a fucking excellent place to be.

“It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like.”

–Jack Schmitt