Yampa Project Part 2   Leave a comment

In an earlier post I described my journey down the Yampa River in Colorado and into Utah.  I returned on a Saturday evening, wrote my column on Sunday morning, and was thrown back into  “regular life” without having a chance to debrief the trip.

Funny, how one can sleep in a tent in sub-freezing weather and then find herself chilly on a 40 degree morning inside her house.  The only visible evidence of that week on the river is the pile of gear in the spare bedroom yet to be put away, and the peeling skin on each fingertip from the cold wet wind.

The importance of not losing the experience in my head and gut is vital to me, yet how does one hang on to an experience? I felt this way after my mother died. Having been at her bedside and knowing what a gift it was to share those final hours with her, I replayed the scene often in my mind so has not to forget one second of it, but the time came when I had to release that urge to keep it fresh and let it become a memory.

Author Milan Kundera said that when something happens our minds immediately begin the job of forgetting and transforming and that is what our memories become – the result of that forgetting and transforming.

It surprises how quickly a body begins to acclimate to its surroundings and do what needs to be done. Making my nest in the tent and getting all the things I needed to stay warm  became easy after the second night. I considered how precise and precious a homeless person must consider their certain spot to sleep. Maybe an entry to a downstairs location that is out of the wind, and maybe their shopping cart has just the right layers that they put on to ensure a warm night. There is no turning back in life whether that is the first day of a trip down a river with no car to drive out, no roads, no turnarounds here, and like that homeless person, who, perhaps, once had a house and family, there is no going back to the same, but there is always forward, just as the river moves the same direction even though a cupful of river water would show the chaos of its molecules, the end result is always forward.

When we returned to our friend Mho’s home in Boulder, and began separating all the gear and food, the weather was pleasant and we worked well sorting and packing up our things for the car ride home. We showered the night before and a clean body on clean sheets felt delicious, yet spending six days without a bath had not bothered any of us much while on the trip. As we worked in Mho’s driveway, and Louie, who had also been on the river with us, sorted out the food on a picnic table, a reddish and cream-colored dog, which appeared to be an Alaskan Husky Breed only slighter in body size, walked into the backyard. The dog looked almost coyote-like mixed with Husky. She wore a halter-style collar of a brick-red color, dog tags hung from it, so we knew she had an owner somewhere. Her name was Bella. She allowed Mho to get close enough to see her name but Bella was skittish and would not hold still long enough for us to see an address or phone number. She wandered into the backyard and went into the open house, but returned to the driveway. I offered her a cracker, and then Mho gave her some cat food and water, and she ate and drank a little of both. Her nose was a reddish color, too.

Maybe it was  just coming off the river and back into society that made me feel connected to this shy dog that wanted to join us but held back. Bella seemed like a symbol to me. She represented, at least in my mind, a symbol of wild beauty, yet she still possessed a desire to be part of civilization. She came with a need and a hunger but could not quite ease past her fear and relax into our small village of people.

I emailed Mho today to see if Bella stuck around awhile or if they found her family, but have not heard from him, yet. My river memories will include Bella, and as my job as one of the artist’s who will be a scribe of the river, Bella will be my symbol of the wild and the tame, and of my return from the recent past, my own, and the ancient rocks that surrounded me for a week.

Every present-second changes to the past one-second later, and as artist and musician Laurie Anderson said,  “Every step we take is falling and catching ourselves, falling and catching” – like a river ride.

Below is my first river poem.


they bring their spirits

strong as bones burned and mixed in good china

gentle as the patterns of painted flowers

the river drinks their salty skin

tastes their scents and sense of  the forgotten wet

the discovered wild

the river considers

the coursing  minds and wrapped bones

traveling across its back and through its center

travelers who wrap myths of their own making

and ones they have forgotten

they are river scribes with tools formed from the shapes of rocks

spirals of clouds    hearts of leaves and water that weaves

its  mist in prehistoric echoes

the river tells stories  started long ago     retold from different voices     in different ways

voices deep and grooved like bark

voices fresh and light as air

until all carry these tales

baked like clay into the lifelines of their palms


Posted August 17, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays, Have a Chair

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