"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grand Romance

Often while in that particular state of relaxed presence of a vacation, Walt and I will begin talking about where we'd like to go next. Last year was no different. I'm not certain where or how the conversation started. I think for me, internally, it began the night we were driving away from Ashland after seeing a play. The air caressed and comforted. The sky was a blizzard of stars. We stood by the side of the road breathing it all in as the car ticked its heat away behind us and the universe spun webs of wonder above. And I wanted more.

The conversations ultimately led, a year ago, to a decision to float the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. At that time the idea was romantic and adventurous and just risky enough to be exciting without being truly dangerous. A bucket list vacation for two people in their sixties, deeply aware that if not now, possibly never.

I dreamed of seeing California Condors soaring overhead and peregrine falcons nesting in canyon walls. I dreamed night skies of concentrated glory. I dreamed basking in the sun-kissed glory of ancient rocks standing sentinel, and breathing air electrified by the power of an untamable river.

This was a dream I would reach for and dare to claim its awakened counterpart. This dream I would not allow to collect cobwebs and regrets in the far reaches of my heart. In a rare confluence of inner integrity, all parts of me were ready to leap into this adventure. All parts of me were, and still are, more than a little amazed that I get to be that person.

Before the school year started, we had the beginnings of a concrete plan and our first reservations. At the start of the new calendar year we made the financial commitment and signed our lives away, promising not to hold our tour company responsible for any of the myriad possible disasters which might occur. Throughout the weeks and months of the last year, Walt and I have had endless conversations, made decision after decision, and spend hours preparing for this trip. The planning has been energizing, bonding, and fun.

I began reading right away: A novel about our exact trip. A just-released book about the history of rafting the Colorado and one man's obsession with the river. The website of the rafting company we booked with. I bought a river guide, a field guide, and a canyon guide book. I found a book written specifically as a record of all the people who have died in the Grand Canyon and how they died. And then I started reading books of stories about the canyon.

All of that new information served to make me fall even more in love with a place that still isn't quite real to me. It's also served to make me a little nervous. Sometimes even more than nervous. There have been a fair share of what-were-we-thinking moments when fear threatened to overwhelm the sense of adventure. Fears that reveal the hold the comforts of day-to-day life have on me.

There are no bathrooms in the Inner Gorge. No beds. No air conditioning or communication with the outside world. There are snakes and scorpions and strangers sharing space. July daytime temperatures regularly exceed the 105 degree heat of a Bikram yoga studio. Nighttime temperatures rarely go below our Pacific Northwest summer daytime 80 degree highs. The river itself, where we'll be bathing, hovers around 50 degrees. And if we forget to pack something, we will do without it for the 13 days it will take us to float the 225 miles from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek.

One friend, on hearing the details of our trip, said, "And you're paying money for this?"

Which is one of the big reasons we're doing this trip. To break the hold of the ordinary, the mundane, the routine. To experience life on its own terms with no distractions easily available. To honor a part of ourselves we all too often relegate to the realm of romantic ponderings.

The romantic is about to become real. All the pictures and words in my head are about to be replaced with Arizona sun on my skin, Colorado River water carrying me to uncharted inner territory, and Grand Canyon walls guiding, holding, teaching along the way. For the first time in my life, or at least in the clearest possible way, I get to step out of my head and into the land of my heart and spirit. Regardless of whether I fall in love with the reality of floating the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, I know I will love even more deeply than I already do the two people who emerge from the adventure at Diamond Creek.

Almost ready!