My husband and I took an incredible all-day river rafting trip yesterday, through the Rio Grande Gorge, in the Taos area of northern New Mexico. It was so incredible, I just can’t stop thinking about it. Six hours of beautiful seclusion within the solid canyon walls, in some places over 600 feet high. The beauty there is beyond description.
The first half of the trip was somewhat serene. We floated a lot, quietly, the only sounds being the screeching ospreys circling above us, or the sounds of the water off our guide’s oar as he steered us down the empty canyon. We had lunch on a white sand beach along the river’s edge, sharing the space with two female bighorn sheep with their teeny tiny little baby which looked like a fuzzy brown lamb. She stared at us the entire time, peeking at her mom every now and then, as if to say, “What are they, mama?” Then she’d get spunky and start jumping and kicking at nothing in particular; I guess even baby lambs have invisible friends. It felt like an invitation to play. It made my heart hurt, it was so incredibly cute.
After lunch, the energy of the day intensified. We hit the Rio Bravo section of the run, which is miles and miles of rapids, class III & IV, challenging for anyone. Through one stretch, we had over an hour straight of class III, our muscles tensed and adrenaline pumping near constantly. The class IV falls were the most difficult to navigate, and we all did our best to stay inside the boat. We had been given the instruction we needed prior to launching, about the dangers of finding yourself in the water through rough rapids, all the things you shouldn’t do unless you wanted to find yourself without teeth, or doing underwater push-ups on the floor of the river bed, stuck in the current while your broken foot remains wedged under the unmovable rock. So needless to say, when the going got really hairy—there were times when the river would carry us right into a rocky crevice with rapids and currents so intense they nearly drove our raft straight up a boulder—we’d all feel pretty terrified until our guide got us out of danger. Which he did, every time.
But he didn’t expect to get us out of danger every time. He prepared us for it. In fact, danger was just a part of this river, an appendage of its form and function. Something beautiful, something to be respected and honored. It struck me as so profound.
While we were in the middle of the class IV’s I suddenly realized that when the river became murderous, I would immediately begin to focus on super-control, my muscles rock-hard, my teeth clenched, holding on to my paddle so tight my hand hurt. But behind me I could feel the energy of my guide doing the exact opposite. I could feel his energy become loose and formless, relaxed, through those killer corridors. He became the river. It was so powerful to witness.
So I tried it. Through the next intense stretch, I just observed the river carry us. When my mind started creating impending disasters, I let go, following my guide’s instructions, but surrendering the rest. I tried to imagine myself an otter, loving those rapids, looking forward to them. And every time, we made it through. In fact, it seemed the river became our ally. It carried us through the most harrowing of experiences. It felt sentient, like it knew what it was doing. It felt intelligent.
At one point our raft threaded through the eye of a rocky needle, narrowly scraping through two giant jagged boulders rather than taking the easy way around either side. Once we returned to tamer waters, my husband jokingly asked our guide if he meant to take us through that. It seemed the absolute most difficult route for the boat to find. The guide replied, “Wherever we end up within the river, is where we were meant to go.”
Well, to that I say, I just can’t think of a more graceful statement and living example of surrender. Beautiful.