We put on the water just before the sun explodes with sunset, and we cruise quietly downstream. The Wild & Scenic Chattooga River is a kitschy albeit truthful means of describing a section of whitewater that is truly deserving of its title, and one of the most beautiful stretches of flow in the Southeast. It is just Chris and me paddling- an occasion growing rarer these days- and we swiftly escape the playful swimmers and sunbathers soaking up the last of the day at Bull Sluice. Soon enough, it’s just us.
Light dances on the water, alive and gold, and if I screw up my eyes, it isn’t too hard to imagine the movements are coming from beings and not a trick of vision. We catch the river at the fabled Magic Hour, where the sun hits this crack in the Earth just right to spotlight its most magnificent features. The hardwoods tower, regal, overhead and the current becomes molten, the sounds of birds bidding farewell to the day bearer, ethereal.
There is an understanding that takes place here, now. We scarcely exchange words as we settle into the flow and blur the lines between present and eternity, human and Earth. My hands break the cool surface and my skin may be a thousand years old as it recognizes heritage in the bold, stoic granite. It is here, in a place so catastrophically unique and antithetical to the world from whence we came, that I am righted; I am redeemed.
I cannot keep my face from splitting into a grin, bearing my teeth as a wolf about to howl a cry of righteousness; a laugh escapes my lips before I can help myself. How can anyone, anywhere chase anything but this? How can we slaughter our time, sacrifice our energy, our bodies for anything other than the purest, most primal of experiences- the reclamation of soul to Earth? Hours pass me in that moment, maybe years, and a truth that has existed perhaps since the beginning of Time flattens my understanding of everything. Those old bones- that old self- will be regenerated by the River.
I think of the white box I sit in each day and the synthetic air that surrounds me, and I continue to smile. I’ve recently been subjected to conversation matters so seriously concerning the font and formatting of my email signature or how to properly name a document. This time, I laugh from the belly as the Universe checks me; suddenly, my day to day is but a pin head in the vast, untamable wild. How could I give my precious breath to something so trivial when so much of the world awaits to take it away for me?
Big words float through my head: providence. Dominion. Primeval. Communion. Reconciliation. Redemption.
My first entry into the water washed away my hours of tainted, mundane experience and makes me whole again. I have no question of why I take to the River, now; it puts my pieces back together. But I came here thinking that I was a woman conflicted, a woman who has two days each day- the first day, and the second when the first is over- a woman who has two lives, two faces. As I move effortlessly downstream, carried not by my own propulsion but, seemingly, by the forces of Nature to which I bow, I realize I was wrong; I am not conflicted. I am not uncertain. I am not duplicitous.
I am one, I am now, and I finally know it for myself.