Autumn at the Salmon River

Rock in Midstream


Billy here. After finishing the cabin, we both needed a day retreat to the river. Since our favorite river, the Clackamas, has a wildfire still smoldering, we went to the Salmon River, another beautiful water creature near Mount Hood. All the bustle of the city and getting ready for the winter has busied my mind. It was good to sit down by the river and just be. I feel that a sense of the whole (river or anything else) moving as one doesn’t show itself until I unfocus the eyes and pull the mind away from a particular point of view. I like how water moves. It is the most powerful creator on Earth, shaping life and carving landscapes. It does all this without force and so is the greatest teacher there is. Water absorbs, it moves around obstructions and yet has the greatest strength of all on the planet. When I am at the river all the whorls of stress that have been created by habit, all the little anxious thoughts, get spun down like flax until the mind is just a fabric of awareness. All the sylvan creatures remind me of where and when I am, just a little monkey in the autumn woods on a planet around a little ordinary star. Nothing matters so much that I need to worry my heart. What is a big deal to the clusters of galaxies spinning like bubbles in the river? Not even death!

The paradox is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what ought to be.

– Richard Feynman

Spence here: “It was in the early morning hours when I fell into a phone call…” The night before we went to the river I had one of those tooth-falling-out-dreams. Except this one seemed even more severe, as the entire top row of my teeth came out in one swoop. In order not to cause alarm to the people I was with in the dream, I held the teeth in with my tongue and just nodded and smiled a small smile. Later, in the dream, my friends (whom I don’t recall actually knowing) told me how really well-behaved I’d been and how sweet it was that I let everyone talk over me and left my opinions at the door. I woke up with my tongue on my teeth and realized I was so tired I had forgotten to brush. Paul Simon’s “Gumboots” was the soundtrack in my head.

We slept in a bit on our one day off together and then decided to go to the Salmon River. We picked up my friend Kim and after second-breakfast, took the road to the mountain. I love the river. It helps put into my pocket what really matters–a light breeze, good snacks, friends, love, leaves, sticks, stones and my favorite knife. Did I tell you, I got a job? I worry I should have set my sights a little higher. Who is that guy who rock climbs and shoots photos for a  living? What about the bicycle mechanic who only works three days a week and then goes to help tune bikes in France at the Tour de France? I can’t recall the person’s name who makes surfing videos all day and then gets paid half a mil to design board shorts.  How do these people find these jobs? Perhaps they are all just better at convincing companies to pay them for fun. Perhaps they just have an outlook which defies the leaf falling off the tree? Anyway, my point is not rooted in reality. Sometimes a trip to the river helps me to see that nothing is. I like to be a kid at the river. I sit in the dirt, I try to make campfires, I watch for fish, birds, deer, snakes and the Yeti. I appreciate tree snags, lichens, tree-root caves, cold splashy spray and asking my friend if she’d “drink the water if”… questions! (Kim almost always says “yes”!)

I am not having a mid-life crisis or anything, I am just tying to find a perspective that works for me. There is much for the city to offer me and I am making other plans. Maybe I will have an art show in the spring or work on the play I am writing–there’s always something to build or fix–there’s music to be invented. Our little backyard cabin is getting closer to completion (see our new “Our Tiny House” section for more photos). Fall is swinging and soon the time change will darken the evenings all together. The rain has started up and I like the way it sounds on the roof. All over the place is my mind and motivation. I am as scattered as the fallen leaves on the river path. Being outside helps remind me the feeling of chaos is exceptional and to be expected.

Our friend’s parents just came and went into town. One evening the dad says to me out of nowhere, in no particular context, “Be here, now.” Like some kind of parental bumper-sticker. “Okay”, I said.


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