daily preciousness

Monday, September 20, 2004

pink water rafting

Editor's Note: This is a special command performance of last year's Anywhere Goes trip. I hope this will tide you over until I get the water out of my ears and write this year's entry (the first anniversary edition), "pink water 2: slippery when wet."

"Don't block the box" -- that was the rule I was breaking when the final notes of Vivaldi sprang forth from my car speakers. Traffic was desperately stagnant on 18th Street at 5:15 on a Friday afternoon.

Yeah, I know, traffic there always is -- but I'm usually too smart/lucky/stubborn to be in the thick of it... This time, I was none of these things. I was immobile: a marathon runner in a leg cast.

During a particularly sensual violin riff, I envision dipping my imaginary cast into crisp, cool river water. At the edge of audible, the river whispers. Intimately, it beckons, calling to me like the perfect wind of a perfect kite-flying day.

Dismissing these thoughts, I focus on the brake lights flaring before me. I was en route to rendezvous with a bus headed to West Virginia -- a gleaming white work-it-girl party caravan, parked just outside the Duplex Diner.

We were on a wild river weekend, leaving the concrete federal expanse behind us. I pictured the meandering green valleys that line the Gauley River. That river valley, with its horseshoe curves and cane sugar colored cliffs, would be our holiday retreat.

In a few moments, I was out of my car and stumbling down the sidewalk. Raindrops began to fall as I gathered up my bags. One of my jumbotron cans of Kirin lager fell to the ground with a metallic *thoink* (I make a mental note to give that can to somebody I don't like -- and remind myself to stand clear of its eminent explosion.)

A friendly businessman picked the can up and handed it to me. I popped it back in my bag, flagged a cab, and fight my face's urge to pout at the rain. The rain had decided to come down even harder.

(Pouting: not a very adult reaction to rain, I'll grant you that. But it's understandable. I mean, one of my pet peeves is the fogging up of my glasses in humid summer rain heat. It drives me bonkers. I also hate it when a raindrop's flight plan intersects with my eyeglasses. I need windshield wipers: a functional solution, though perhaps not as stylish and trendy as Lasik.)

I give a cartoonish sigh of relief when I find the cab is crisply air-conditioned.

My glasses lose their detestable film of fog. The driver wears coke bottle lenses, tinted faintly green. (Do his glasses fog over, too? I consider asking him this for a moment.)

As I'm thinking this, he pushes his spectacles up mechanically before making an illegal U-turn.

The driver is in command of a very curry-flavored English. We talk of finding a new place to live in North Arlington/East Falls Church. He smiles appreciatively as he tells me, "Finding an apartment is really difficult over there. Maybe you should find a place in the district instead," he offers unhelpfully. "No," I tell him, "I want to live in the suburbs. That would work better for me" I wonder if the cab's floral scent is Jasmine -- or am I imagining that, simply based on his accent?

I have no time to determine this, because Phil gives me a call at that moment to see where I am. Peering out the window, I tell him I'm about 5 blocks away. He assures me that I'll be there in no time. I breathe a deep sigh of relief and finish cleaning the raindrops from my glasses by the time the cab stops.

There's a small line of guys getting on the bus. I walk aboard, not knowing a soul except for Phil. But Phil and his pal, Tony greet me with big welcoming smiles. "You made it with time to spare, Jeffrey" Phil beams. The steps into the bus wind ergonomically upward. Aboard, 48 strangers sit and stand, lean and sway. Most are laughing and chatting away.

Assorted drinks are being passed around, imparting the warm camaraderie of shared consumption. The age range is roughly 25-35.

Clutching my bags like an old lady at a Filene's Basement sale, I walked down the long aisle, feeling just a little timid. I thread though lively exchanges punctuated with gestured flourishes of drunken gay men. I weaved through a dozen constellations of conversations, grinning quietly and saying hello to smiling strangers.

I sat, pondering my bad luck in seating. According to the ancient Feng Shui masters, one should never sit near the bathroom of a vehicle.

Whether it's a tram, plane, bus or ship, it's not a good place to be. The stinkity-skank stank tends to smother and chokify. And I'm not immune, despite my considerable nose impairment. (I have a very weak sense of smell.)

Soon, however, I noticed that there was no odor at all. It was fine; it was very well ventilated, in fact. Furthermore, the social geography of the bus only enriched my status. The bathroom was a magnet. And, by topographic extension, so was I. Before long, I began having pleasant chats with the men who stood in line for the bathroom. One by one they came, to purge, in the quiet darkness, like beauty queen contestants before a swimsuit competition.

And, bit by bit, I realized the power of my location. In the shadowy recesses at the back of the bus, I realized my true calling... And a bathroom monitor was born!

Squeezing the Charmin and offering to hold people's cups -- as well as their drinks -- is what I realized I should do.

Before long, I had met the Philly crew, Brent and Ahn. They seemed just as thrilled as I was to make an encounter with the Gauley River. There were guys from San Francisco, Chicago and Baltimore there, too. Most were from the DC metro area, but around a dozen were from out of town.

I met Lou, who had a warm demeanor, warm hands and warm feet. I ate sushi and shared some with Lou, who'd spent a few years near Tokyo with the Air Force.

I kept up my duty as monitor. Everyone's Charmin was firm. Delightful. Summer's Eve fresh, too.

Later on, I'm not sure when -- maybe at Kirin can number five -- I added a sniff-inspection to my duties. I can be such a go-getter when there's a big enough hot carrot dangling action. [Okay, that sounds a bit too much like Bugs Bunny porn. Scratch that comparison.]

Phil and Tony had prepared panoply of TV goodness. The video mlange included a gay VH1 special, the Boy meets Boy finale and even a clip from the classic "The Celluloid Closet" Gotta love that Lilly Tomlin.

Flash forward to a dark hotel bedroom. I walk in to see buddy Mark in bed with a strange man. But no, he's not strange after all. The next morning I see the Paul Newman blue eyes of his boyfriend David. David wakes up remarkably friendly. He barely knows me, but he's calm and genial. I wouldn't be so calm, walking up among people I barely know!

Phil was calm, too, the previous afternoon, when I called him at 5:05. (Note to the overlearned: the following little flashbackian episode happened before the trafficky delay mentioned earlier. I started this entry in medias res, just so I could use some literary Latin in this explanation.)

Like I was saying, Phil was very calm the previous afternoon. Despite the million-and-one last minute details that he was certainly dealing with, he answered the phone in the pacific tones of a man in control of the situation.

It could've been one of those tense, staccato cell phone conversations. I know my tone is a little clipped, tinted with the strain of heavy traffic. Exhaust fumes really get to me. Just a whiff of carbon monoxide from the AC vent and I feel heavily stressed. "What should I do, Phil? I'm here at 18 and M Street."

"Well, considering the bus isn't even here yet, you should be fine, Jeffrey" He tells me to pull into the nearest parking garage. The next one is a valet garage. I end up adding another $30 to the weekend price tag. Phil seems to have foreseen this concern, perhaps because he knows I'm a man of limited financial means.

"And just remind me about it and I can give you a few extra CDs when I hand you your T-shirt. That'll take some of the sting out of it." he consoles. "Thanks! That would be swell," I reply, unconcerned about how much like a 1950s sitcom.

I always liked the sincerity of those old shows. They had a pre-ironic, pre-post modern sensibility to them that was completely earnest.

It was like the earnest question posed to me by one of the bathroom-goers. He asked me to rate his Charmin. I gave it a judicious squeeze, repositioned my hand for a second and third angle, then cocked my head to the side and pondered. I stroked my imaginary beard and replied in a serious tone, "I give it... a ten out of ten." The guy, a Defense Department therapist with a handsome New Zealand ivory necklace, was incredulous. "Really? Seriously, you'd give me a ten? There's absolutely no room for improvement? Are you sure?"

"No," I reassured, "I'm quite certain that further improvements on your extreme bootyliciousness are nigh impossible, barring silicone implants or controlled substance abuse." I said this in a confident, therapist-like tone. (Or the closest I could come to it.)

He seemed satisfied. We later had a penetrating discussion concerning how shallow gay men can be; he said he often wondered how many chances he'd been afforded simply based on his physicality... his sky blue eyes, his sly crooked grin, his plentiful lips formed by the sensual algebra of the golden mean... "How much have I achieved solely on merit and how much of it was just the way I look," he wondered aloud, running a hand through his sun-bronzed curly auburn hair and puffing on a cigarette.

I was honestly touched by his introspection. I prize that quality in people because I think a sense of introspection is seriously undervalued by our community. But I was in a much more playful mood. (I'm a happy drunk, rarely a philosophical one, outside of a Dublin pub.)

"I don't know -- I don't think any of us could ever know that... so... do you think I could feel your butt again?" He seemed to grow less reflective as he guided my hand up the pants leg of his loose-fitting cargo shorts. (Glad I could dismiss those thorny philosophical quandaries with a simple act of unaffected flirtation!)

I slept with Mike that night. He was my bed partner. His brooding eyes and neatly trimmed Tolstoy goatee were a very charming combination. But I didn't want him for his looks. I wanted him simply for his hotness. He did not disappoint; delightfully hot-blooded, Mike radiated just the right amount of BTUs to keep me cozy that night.

Oddly, I woke up very early. My wake up call was obviously the whispering of the River Gauley. It coaxed me out of bed. I had that strange physical eagerness that precedes adventure travel. This curious psychological state manifests itself physically with an ice-blue fire in my belly. That's the only way I can describe it. And this expectant urge was coupled with a slight hangover.

I left my pleasantly furry neurosurgeon bed partner and found myself breakfasting with the Geritol set of the Hampton Inn. A crook-spined old lady with powder blue hair was there. She made baby steps toward the toaster. I walked toward it with great speed, bread in hand. I weighed the ethics of my quick glide toward food and her shifting gait. "Ma'am, why don't you go ahead," I told her. She was appreciative, but couldn't quite work the toaster. (It had blinking LED lights, which probably reminded her of listening to Buck Rogers episodes on the wireless back when she was 10.)

"I would use it, if I could figure it out," she admitted. "Let me help you with that," I offered, putting her toast in for her. (I remember thinking, "I bet that some Shaneekwa girl does this for you at the home. Well, I'll do it for you while you're on vacation.")

I peered out into the West Virginian dawn and considered my stereotypes of this state. No banjos. The lobby was done in a Southwestern theme. "They did that just to throw people off and distract them from the horrible breakfast," I told myself. It almost worked. Watching CNN, I wondered if Bill Hemmer had ever eaten yogurt and bagels, using a Gideon's Bible as a placemat, like I was.

The girl behind the front desk couldn't give me aspirin. In her feathery twang, she explained that they couldn't give out drugs. "Only toothpaste and stuff like that," she elaborated. She was bright eyed -- remarkably bright eyed for 7 o'clock in the morning. She had pigtails and a chipper demeanor. With her left hand, she twirled her pigtail slightly as she spoke. Despite her childlike mannerisms and freckles, she was actually very professional and efficient. Her accent was as soft and downy as a newborn chick.

Instead of drugging, I decided to hydrate. "Maybe my hangover proto-headache will disappear after adding water," I reasoned. It did. And after a few glasses of lemonade and water, I was fine.

Most of the group had filed in by the time I had finished my third yogurt. David laughed quietly at one of the little old biddy's comments: "All you young men are so attractive." (I saw her, she squeezed his arm with a church-lady pinch, as if to nonverbally italicize "attractive.")

"Video Paradise" was painfully hand-lettered on a barn-like building that we passed. It was the local adult video store. We saw it on the way to the river camp, laughing at what gay life would be like out here in the boondocks. I felt a sudden pang of sympathy for these non-urban queers. Life in the hinterlands can be cruel. Bleak. (My life could've been just as bleak, if I'd not moved to a gay metropolis.)

"There are actually three gay bars in Charlotte," somebody volunteered. "Yeah" somebody else replied, "and they're all just like that video store!"

In less than twenty minutes, we'd all filed off the bus and wrapped ourselves in black wetsuits. (It felt so Baywatch!) The group stopped to listen to a primer on white water rafting. The older guy who spoke to us had a great personality and more importantly, a great pedicure. I wondered if the Fab5 had already visited this place, preparing the locals for our visit. (Or maybe it was last year's trip here that made all the difference!)

We strap on life vests. They're bulbous and soft, like the padding on a metro seat. Oddly, they have a little pillow right behind the head. (Do they expect me to be unconscious in the water?) Bright lemon yellow helmets found their way on to protect our noggins. Light aluminum paddles (that match the helmets) complete the ensemble.

We board a bus that takes me back to bible study camp. (Well, the bus doesn't physically take me back to bible study camp. It just fills me up with nostalgia for carefree, pre-pubescent summers before I required deodorant... It's The kind of bus with fire-retardant seats that stick to sweaty legs... the kind with awkward windows that never seem to work where I sit.) I grab the seat above the rear left wheel. Appropriately, the window doesn't work.

We de-bus. We approach the rubber rafts. Our group had an odd number. Self-styled as "Team Co-motion," we were ready to get wet. We were 7, somehow assigned to a 6-seater raft. Kim, our plucky guide who wore a storm trooper style helmet and a safety orange whistle, decided that I could sit in the middle center seat.

"Princess position!" I roared triumphantly. Because my hands were free from menial labor, I used them to direct the boat into splash battle attacks and dainty, pearl-clutching waves to the other vessels. I decided that I was the pirate princess, since I loved shouting, "Attack! Attack those scurvy-ridden dogs," in a rather un-princess like pirate drawl.

Lewis and Lou headed up the raft, their strong arms plowing into the deliciously cold river water. Lewis haled from Baltimore and spoke in a crisp, friendly accent. His manner was gentle and genial. Immediately, he reminded me of my brother, who is also a careful and considerate speaker.

While we were still in "park" mode, waiting for the rest of the 48 in our pack to launch their rafts into the river, Kim was explaining rules and orders, policies and procedures. I was impressed with how quickly she shifted from friendly river pal gear to I-mean-business commanding river goddess.

I tucked my sandaled feet under the inflated tube seat in front of me. The weathered bough of the raft was a scruffy sky blue. My painter's eye was drawn to the perfect vertical symmetry:

blue sky raft,

brown river,

forest green trees,

brown cliff,

blue sky.

It was visual poetry. So orderly! It was utterly beautimous. I looked down and Kim's instructions faded away. Sucked into the visuals, my entire being was drawn to the new addition to the symmetry: tiny sun drippings playing in the mud brown water. Peripherally, I heard her words, but my mind didn't interpret the sound. It was so perfect, the vertical symmetry, the dancing sun drops -- so orderly -- until we met our first rapid.

The lower Gauley was more than just a scenic river. It was a flip-floppy, tump-you-over, racing rapid with white water. It was white water that could whip you like a "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" scene if you weren't prepared.

I forced my mind to focus. Straight ahead was a whipped cream rapid, frothy like egg whites. A gray-brown slab of rock, like two giant marbleized brownies, sloped perilously into the river. Waves struck our bough and this princess had to hold on for dear life. I was actually a little frightened. But I remembered Emerson's famous question:

Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements?"
He's right, of course. I clutched my pearls and pressed on, like a Lee Nail. We got bumped again. Woah. This river wasn't kidding. "Screw Emerson -- that river's trying to whip us" I remember thinking.

"God save the queen," yelled Lou. Suddenly those yellow helmets seemed like a really good idea. I cinched in the belts of my life vest. I didn't care if they made it difficult to breathe. I wanted to be head-above-water, in case the rapids flipped me out of the raft. Princess or not, I was not going to go down with H.M.S. Co-motion.

We bumped up and down, the forward momentum seemingly the only thing keeping us above the crashing water. The third rapid gave me a mouthful of water -- that's when I realized that I should stop screaming and keep my mouth closed!

I wondered what it must be like for the river guides. Kim had been on this river countless times before. She knew every single rapid intimately. This one with the sloping rocks, that one with the river dimples on the left-hand side, the other one which sucked you down like a toilet flush.

Kim had acquired the experiential wisdom of a thousand trips down the river valley. She had escorted dainty, bird-boned church ladies, conservatively raucous GOP parties, marines contemptuous of her female authority and badge-wearing scout troops. Now, she was paddling with seven squealing gay men.

How many times had she heard the same screams of giddy delight at this rapid or that swell? How often had the peals nervous laughter at a perilous-sounding river formation filled her guide ears? I couldn't help but ponder this as the cloudbank above us muted the bright pines to a dark moss. We laughed and gossiped during a calm stretch right before lunch.

We lined up and chowed down and captured a few dozen group pics. We were lined up, just like 5th grade class pictures. Cheese!

The little tent at the bend in the river was stuffed with a filling lunch. I was glad they had veggie burgers -- I'd been resigned to fill up on potato salad if necessary.

The potato salad was good -- it was sweetly vinegary like Grandear's.

Poor Grandear' I couldn't help but think about her, impatiently walking the halls of the rest home with her walker. Were the tennis balls on her walker easing her way for her? Was she gliding along the shiny linoleum as I had been on the Gauley River? Were the restless, unmade sheets of her bed as rippled and bouncy as the ribbon of water I was riding? More importantly, was she filled with her uniquely stubborn, ornery spirit? I hoped so. And her present state of extreme physical limitation underscored my unabashed need to collect a life full of joyful and far-reaching physical adventure.

Flash forward to Matt's lips on the way back home. This twenty-something, powerfully magnetic guy is staring at me. Hitting on me. Sitting on me. And has just asked for his good-bye kiss early. I am pleasantly shocked. I feel the familiar tug: a gravity well of scandal. Dangerous paths.

"Well, I don't want to be unfaithful to Henry. But I suspect he wouldn't mind it if I give you an early goodbye kiss. As long as you realize that I'm betrothed and very happily loyal to Henry, I shall grant you said kiss." I hope that he doesn't think I'm a prude.

He smiles with a giddy certainty: catlike in the extreme. He then proceeds to explain why a kiss is simply a harmless and pleasant manifestation of social interaction. "This one should be in sales," I remember thinking as I plant one on him, granting him his wish. Moist. Firm, but at the same instant, pillow-soft. Sensual.

Kind of like Lewis' soft hands, which I'd been rubbing an hour before. He seemed like he could've used a hand job. (I mean a hand massage, of course.) I remember him smiling, his chocolate brown eyes sparkling. "Good boy, good boy," he murmured in his amiable accent.

Physical experiences -- at least of the erotic variety -- I studiously avoided during this trip. Take the truth-or-dare party in room 208 that Saturday night. I stayed put and made notes into my journal.

But, to coin a phrase, a great time was had by all. (Strunk and White would advise me to be more specific on this point. For them, and for the curious reader, I will clarify: a great many were had by all.)

I guessed this through scores of nonverbal acknowledgements the next day. A whole lot of banking went on Saturday night. I estimate a couple dozen transactions went on. The body politics momentarily intrigue me over my banana nut muffins the next morning. (Clearly, it had been a banana nut night for many of us!)

"This is where these trips get such bawdy reputations," I remember saying to myself. I had heard about the delightful lechery from David, one of my contacts at Phil's office. When we'd discussed the trips beforehand, David was all raised eyebrows and knowing nods. Now, I was the one with the semi-direct experience of the forbidden fruit weekends. Saucy wenches, every one! (Yum. I love sauce.)

Sunday morning, I was sorry to say goodbye to Mark and David, who were leaving early. The two of them were a charming couple. David struck me as very mature and considerate. And he had that essential ingredient in a Mark-partner: beautiful baby blues.

Our guide for the Upper Gauley River turned out to be a warm and charming guy dressed in a cute orange floral shirt. Benny had a pot-smoker's laid-backness that gave him tremendous river credibility -- at least in my book.

He was sober, of course, for his time on the water. "Guys, I want you to take off your helmets and dip them into the water for me" he told us. We did so. "Now, splash a little water onto your head and say, "Hello, Ernie!" That's what we call the River Spirit -- Ernie, just like Bert and Ernie." I smiled, quietly approving of Benny's creative ritual.

Just like the day before, the scenery was quick to distract me. But I had to concentrate more than the day before, since I was paddling the whole time.

Even though Saturday was easier, I still had some time in the paddler's seat. Inevitably, arms grew tired. So I switched places with guys who needed a break. But we continued the princess tradition.

During each person's reign, we encountered different situations. During the "Annus Horribles," the raft flipped over. I remember thinking, "This would've never happened during my reign," as I drifted down the river after a collection of bunched-together rocks. Everybody got launched out of the raft, including our guide. "That was the first time I've ever flipped right there," Benny confided. "We just got sucked under somehow. But don't worry -- I think the videographer got us on tape!" We giggled at the prospect of seeing ourselves scream in slow-motion.

It was truly amazing how quickly it happened. One instant we were gently bumping against a boulder. The next, we bough of the raft was sucked under by the current. We all fell into the churning water instantly. In the time it takes for the soap opera to go to a Palmolive commercial, we were soaking in it!

Trapped. Like an ABC After School Special, I was trapped. I was trapped in the gloaming blue light of an overturned raft. A quick breath and I swam out from underneath it. Next thing I knew, I was headed toward three big rocks. I stood, in a manner of speaking, horizontally, on the rocks. The current like a steady slap on the back. The river was giving me a million gallon massage.

Then, I relented to the current. I drifted toward a raft that was from a different group and a different company. I held on for just a few minutes to catch my breath. "You're going to have to find a blue raft to go to, 'cause you can't hang on here," a gruff guide told me. Jerk. "Minus 50 points from Slitherin Boat House," I remember sulking at his tone of voice.

But I followed his instructions and soon found my raft. Benny and Brent were the only ones on board. We soon gathered up all of our team. It was a fun and strange feeling, to have flipped over like that, in a place where the guide sincerely didn't expect it. I guess the river can always surprise.

Another surprise: we had a kidnapping during another princess' reign. A lighter member of the crew, Brent, got yanked out, cartoon-style, by Joe, who was in another raft. (We think it had been a retaliatory gesture, since we'd splished and splashed the same raft, just an hour before, for smoking cigarettes on the river. I mean, it was ridiculous, to be out on the river, in the middle of West Virginia, only to drift through a cloud of smoke. How random and polluted is that?)

Another highlight: the death-defying 15-foot leap from a ledge. After a short climb up a chalky, dusty trail

Benny steered us toward a small waterfall on the right side of the river. The water sprinkled over us, a cool and sparkling shower. The light danced off the water so playfully. The mossy green cliff face underneath it was quite a contrast. I just wish I'd been able to capture it on film better.

(My waterproof camera was safe from the water, but the lens seemed to be saturated with it; so much so that many of my shots were packed full of spectral sparks of reflected sunlight. Oh well, next time I'll be aware of that limitation and remember to pack a dry cloth to clean the lens!)

We stopped on a pile of rocks around 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon. Lunch was a satisfying PB&J, salad and fresh tomatoes. It was a great meal. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so hungry. We lined up for documentary photos.

Lou provided us with musical entertainment during most of the journey. I'm not sure how he picked the songs, but it seemed like any stray comment could inspire a karaoke shock-and-awe-style attack. Strong lungs on that Lou -- I couldn't help but wonder how his singing affected his work with FEMA. I mean, did his renditions of drill songs cheer up people's spirits after a disaster? Did his mandatory soundtrack help the victims of natural disasters cope with unimaginable pain and loss? Or did it simply punctuate their sobs with triumphant counterpoint? I don't know. But it is something that I will associate with our river journey that entire weekend experience.

In addition to Lou's baritone, another thematic backdrop along the Gauley that weekend was the fiery transition from summer to fall. The maples and other early-turning perennials granted us a range of color from burgundy to gold. One of my most breath-taking, Zen moments, was when we entered a small swell of water just downstream from a large maple tree. As my paddle dipped into the sparkling water, I stirred three fallen maple leaves into an eddy of my own making. It was stunning. The monks back at the Shingon Temple would have certainly shouted a "Kirei, na!" ("Gorgeous, isn't it?") at that sight.

The river journey itself had a delightful Joseph Campbell quality to it, with our group of 48 performing the traditional hero cycle, a la the Buddha. The three temptations (which are, curiously, numerically parallel to Jesus' own) were similar to the ones that we met on the river.

1. lust (yummy river gods in life vests!)

2. fear (flipping over into white water!)

3. social duty (tipping our guide)

In a related item, I felt curiously Japanese tour group-ish on this trip. Not only did I simply follow the herd before me, cattle-like, but, I reveled in the utter lack of planning involved with a vacation like this. (I mean lack of planning on my part, anyway... I know that Tony and Phil worked tirelessly on this for days and weeks so that it would work so flawlessly.)

How delightful -- how utterly delightful it was to be out in a verdant, natural corridor of nature. It was just us and the river, with very little to distract us. It reminds me of that old truism, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida.)

Another thought that came to me upon writing this journal entry is the sense of being plunged into a revery is very similar to plunging into water from a 15-foot dive. Water draws us. It's that whole return-to-the-natal-state phenom, I suspect.

Melville had it so right:

"Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged n his deepest reveries -- stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water," he tells us, since, "as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever." (Moby Dick)

The lasting gift I take back home with me is this. The essence of water is its propensity to test its boundaries. What else is the river, but a study in carving out a place in the world for yourself? The carver, of course, is H2O. Finding its way from higher to lower, it tests its boundaries, slicing its way through the countryside. The rocks give way like clay to a potter's knife. The stone melts in the loving caress -- the ten thousand-year embrace of the water. The water is testing its mate, the earth, just as the river tests its visitors. Just as we are all tested every day in the great pink water.


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