River Family

Some days will be harder than others. This is a unique life we live, that of a guide. Many folks work hard and make sacrifices, driving since dawn in a hot car with screaming children, leaving behind romantic dreams of being an artist or a life of traveling, spending eight hours a day plus overtime in a felt-sided plasterboard cell partitioned from other plasterboard cells waiting for the day their savings account and retirement plan forgives them enough so they may walk away from the humdrum and be too old to have the life they saved up to live. Some are suffering unimaginable hurt, some have never truly seen the stars. As for the teenagers who join us, adolescence is trial enough, but some face tragedy, unreasonable burdens of responsibility, diagnoses,  or have never been given a hand up in life. For each of their souls, this is the one week they have to experience this existence, this place, this sense of self when all identity washes away in the free-flowing crash and surge of the Salmon River. Patients become teenagers again. Hearts filled with grief are filled with the kind of laughter that takes your breath away. Doctor, widow, drop-out, starving grad student, drug addict, survivor, burnt-out social worker, executive director, supervisor, 23rd Infantry Division veteran… these definitions, our self-proclaimed destinies, become fluid, transparent, as we enter the first canyon and the walls rise up and we are vessels for that silent moment when there is nothing in this universe but for that bend of river and that camaraderie we carry with us.

We are home. Green Canyon, Cougar Canyon, Snow Hole Canyon, Blue Canyon bless us with silence, a brief, insatiably loud momentary stillness in which our pain, our grief, our regrets and shame, fears and insecurities, are replaced by the vast bleeding, beating heart of the river.

And it is hard for them, as it is for us, and rewarding all the same. Yet we toil at our lifestyle, as they toil at theirs, get paid little for hard labor, long days, specialized skills honed by time and embarrassing mistakes, all to be here, live here, and give this to anyone willing to paddle out into that first wave. To make a home for our participants between chert rock canyon walls and columnar basalt cliffs, to fall asleep to the melody of canyon wrens and eddy lines. To lead others through the green lines hidden in wet white chaos, to feel their awe as they watch an eagle unfurl its ebony wings and dive and ride up towers of wind to an outcropping overhead.

To remember our first time trying to feel the river with our paddle, failing, and learning more from the failure than from any success. To let go and play with the river, to let the river play with us.

To know reverence. To share a sense of freedom from the struggle of identity; to revel in solidarity and solitude, loneliness and companionship; to be obsolete and all there is, and to be content with it all.


2017 LEAP Guide