The Daily

Further On Down

I come from down in the valley

Where mister when you’re young

They bring you up to do like your daddy done

Bruce Springsteen, The River

Last week, I told the story about the trip I took on a raft down the Grand Canyon with my Dad. You can find it here. It wasn’t our first time together in the water on a raft. My family had a place on Lake Rabun, Georgia, near the Chattooga River (where the movie Deliverance was filmed). My folks bought the house with the families of his two law partners at the time and we split up the summer months.

Every year, at least at the beginning, we’d take guided day rides with Southeastern Expeditions down the different sections of the river. Depending on the water level in the Chattooga and the section you chose, you could experience high Class 4 and 5 rapids – a thrill and a danger for any amateur. There were years, if the water was heavy, you either couldn’t put in or had to port around Bull Sluice. It was just too dangerous. Unlike the easy reflection done on a lazy river, an angry current forces you to pay careful attention – especially when it churns over a bed of rock and boulders that create nearly inescapable vortexes of churning water.

The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek the depths. Herman Hesse, Siddharta

It was said that decades-old objects were stuck in the hydraulics of the Chattooga rapids – remnants of shattered canoes, rafts and driftwood stuck in an endless, swirling circle of water and foam. The guides would casually drop – in any conversation – rural legends about divers dropped by steel cable into the violent rapids to find bodies and more circling in the hydraulics. The rapids are no place to lose your focus. Everyone in my family got coached up good before going down the Chattooga. Lessons learned on the river last a lifetime and they come in handy during life’s inevitable turbulence.

One of the things you learn is to brace your feet under the raft walls. The rower in the back is responsible for steerage, pointing the raft in the right direction to take advantage of the currents for the swiftest and safest passage around obstacles. At the beginning, that was always a guide. But as the years went on and they got to know us, they succumbed to my Father’s persistent badgering to let him steer through the rapids. The other riders are responsible for mad paddling to keep the raft afloat. One key piece of rowing advice is not to lean too far outside of the raft – to do all the work from inside the protected space. Otherwise, you get thrown and are left to the ‘not so tender’ mercies of the river.

If taken out of the raft, the river poses innumerable dangers to the human body, of which simple drowning might be the most pleasant. Holding on to the paddle after ejection is helpful for others to pull you to safety. Keeping your feet pointed down river is essential to use as a brace against rocks. The river is neither kind nor mean. It just is and you get what you have coming to you if you end up in it. For good or ill. In my experience, mostly good.

Rivers have what man most respects and longs for in his own life and thought: a capacity for renewal and replenishment, continual energy, creativity, cleansing.
– John M. Kauffmann, EPA Journal. May 1981