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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Rathert


Home. Fifteen days passed since I went off the river. These weeks are different than weeks before, the ones during my journey and those weeks before it. I look back to days I was out there and to the 650 miles in the middle of my going out and the very last of it when I returned home. I think quite a lot about it. What was good about doing it, I wonder.

Fear. On my river trip, at times, I was afraid. Being frightened is not good in itself, but the outcome can be useful for any human. We often stay put while surrounded by boundaries of comfort to remain unafraid. What can be squeezed out of fear that might be good? What rose up from my fear was life. I did not die but I lived. The fear did not kill me but instead was conquerable, all of it. I was afraid many ways throughout the river trip - of sleeping in mysterious places and doing it alone. I feared what was around each turn of the river or what was in my trip tomorrow even when it was not yet taking place. Uneasiness escorted each day when I was moving toward a dam and portage or meeting new people who would be helpful to me, both of these as unknowns. I knew I must rise to whatever came, whether suddenly or dragged out all day before I knew how things would go. The good thing: I survived, and none of it too much for me to live through. I am better now for the doing of each thing I faced.

Unable. In many situations I was not able. In usual life, I am able. I have set my home and community environment within my capacity. When they are not, I have choice to navigate around or to avoid for as long as I like. On a river with nothing but a small boat, there is no veering off or decision for avoidance. A linear trip as if a marble on a track rolling downward, no turns or jumps for alternatives. When I confronted things I felt unable to do, it was the expectation I might be unable, more than an actual inability, that stirred the fear. At times I was not artful at all or knowledgeable in the least so I felt so very unable, yet I was able even though it was a sloppy try or near death from trying. Yes, I was still able to get through all things. A good thing because now I have new understanding how ability can work for humans.

No one else. Through the full trip I was alone. Some occasions I paddled with another traveler, maybe two, but never did they take responsibility for me or my belongings and I did not take care of their affairs. We were companions, nice, but kept our own burden of things to ourselves. The feeling of being all alone on the river never left me, it was a strong felt sense each day. Not good, not bad, just an experience. My life has been with very little solitary time spent because I’ve lived with family and been involved in the lives of each other. Alone on the river brought new emotions to the top. Some people ignored me because their focus was on their reason for being there, like fishing, or on their own people while camping and enjoying their others. I was just incidental as I paddled along or camped nearby. I wondered, if I needed help, would they come for me. It never happened so was left untested. At a time, I was caught in flood waters unable to find an effective way. I saw a man mowing grass at a boat ramp. I paused my kayak to think whether to wave down a man alone to help a woman alone, me, at an abandoned bend in the river. I paused too long because, when I finally raised my arms to alert the man, his mower turned to the opposite direction, and for this I was relieved. He was moving away and I had no time to hold my boat still another second. The flood waters were brisk and took me too quickly. Even in asking for help and missing out on it, I was alone. Some situations brought out seclusion more than others. I was surprised which ones these were. Yet it was these times I felt strong and most able to help myself. I enjoyed being with me, apart from others, as a good experience enjoying my own company and relying on just me while fumbling through things that were amazingly so very difficult. This was good, a worthwhile experience.

Unharmed. I was not hurt in any way by others or accident. Exhausted on countless times, it was trying to exit my boat or climb a high and muddy bank while carrying my gear for night camp. Too tired to cook hot food or read a book, I went the way without it. I loved doing this river even when it consumed my day’s full energy. I became ill in a way that ended my trip so regrettably. Neither of these, exhaustion or sickness, was negative for me because from each, I survived. I rested well at night, never having a scare or danger during sleep. Nothing came to my camp during night hours that threatened me or my things, except on one night when a severe storm brought a tornado close by. I laid hard in my tent, pressing it down when I felt it might rise high in the air. Other than this, it was extra quiet and peace filled during all times, and every time very much spirit-filled in my surroundings, in the night, in nature, of water, weather, of my own, and that of God, filling the air and sky and stars, the sounds and breeze, everything around me so good. I woke each morning to the same, peace and a loving sense for where I just rested. I recovered quickly from daily exhaustion and the end-illness that brought me home. I knew I was watched over and thoroughly cared about for the duration of my time living on the river and its banks. The resilience built within and outside has strengthened me in ways I did not ever foresee. This, another good thing.

Help. I now have faith in help and called out for it when required. The help came in ways so numerous that I was astonished. River angels helped me, some shared wisdom, others shared food, or their strength when I did not have it. I enjoyed these people and was welcomed by them every time. Help came from authorities when I called the Coast Guard to take me to higher ground or the sheriff’s water patrol who moved me from my flooded position to a dry one. Both were caring and assisted me to get where I must go in these devastated areas of fast water and thick mud. A near-drowning experience was oddly not terrifying, but overpowering and swift. It was an incredibly abrupt turn that caused me to lose many things, but not my life, and overturn my boat. I was dazed after I struggled onto a muddy bank barely able to breathe while covered in slippery mud. It was good on the whole because I survived unhurt, and I met good people who took me in. The rescue was complete in every way, my survival gear was successful, and it saved my life. I gratefully think back on it in awe. It will not be forgotten ever as a rich and vivid experience which I survived. This is faith in help, a good thing.

Love. I love the river with its tempers and moods. I was frightened of the water early but grew to appreciate the river’s boldness and freedom that humans cannot share. I remember the top water and how it moves at various times on any day. Seamlessly going from smooth to rolling and over the kayak’s bow tip. I love my boat designed in ways to roll over these waves and push them where they belong. The bow just cuts over the water no matter its surface tread and speed, I have loved it the whole way. I love the sand as it emerged from the floods, leaving sludge and fallen trees for hundreds of miles. I love washing with sand, cleaning the boat hull covered with mud or slime from river water using sand, and hiding my feet from sun while tucked in the sand. Just like memory foam, I love sleeping on sand as it forms my shape in itself and not like the hard earth or poking brush. Before this trip, I had no relationship with the river’s parts, its water and banks or personality and sounds. I now know the spiritual depth from sleeping next to it, listening to night sounds by creatures who sleep all day. By sloughs and backwaters, sleeping was loud with noise both pleasant and uplifting. I loved the bullfrog after midnight when it calls like a soft gentle tuba, the same series of notes and then a long pause between. Double layered notes as if two were doing it, but both sounds came from just one. Over and over, I laid awake to hear it. It kept me up like a late movie. At far distance, another was exactly the same but smaller in volume. In wee hours before light, the still sluggish water was filled with this delicate tuba piece of music. I loved it so deeply and know I will not hear it again unless I sleep very near the water once more. On the farm, our ponds were filled with choral frogs, green frogs, and a couple bullfrogs each. I loved hearing their deafening repetition but only from the house or barn. It was certain they all stopped singing if I approached quietly on foot. All at once loud, then a sudden stop when I reached an exact point of boundary, they’d suddenly cease on the same note as if a conductor snapped his stick for immediate silence. This I know, I must sleep there again so they are unaware of my presence and will continue the music all night without any breaks. A gratifying experience beyond many others I have had in my life. I label it “very good” and "love."

Paint. I love watercolors without having any training or experience. I enjoyed using them to express my river trip. The colors and watery way of it has always been a draw for me. I have no gift of doing it or any particular confidence, it is just satisfying and fills me with appreciation for it as it is. I can stare at watercolor an entire day loving the paints and shades and the thickness of how it looks. A wonderful gift to see, to do, and to have so near me. I am blessed to be loving it. Good comes from this paint through the way it goes on paper and for being just so pleasant coming off the brush.

Bugs. Water insects and those that live near water excite me, opening my mind. It is intriguing to learn why they are there and what they do. Their sounds are indistinguishable from greater creatures and that is part of the charm. Larger more complicated animals have many sounds more that come from the same animal but at different times. Insects usually have one or two variations, some loud and some delicate, but still limited in their voice. I love how they’re made, how they move, and how they do not live long but still fit everything in that is needed to be done. I used to keep honeybee hives, as it’s called, because we don’t raise bees or produce them, we just keep them. They do all the other for themselves. Bees live long, for weeks, and more than most insects do. Bees also use the entire bee body for various important work all day, more impressive than other insects and how they spend a day. Once I sat on a rise next to a Loosestrife, large as a shrub and covered with bees. The purple flower stalks were inches from my head, bees full on the stems packing up with nectar and pollen grains. The sound was relaxing and pleasant, I knew they were loading heavy to fly miles back to the hive. My love for them was strong because of their work and humility, and of knowing them so well. Good friends. Bees and me, we both work to exhaustion each day, then do it again tomorrow. We are devoted to our causes, so we do it over and again for the good of the things we believe. The river is crowded with insects, bugs of all sorts, and this is something I love. The longer a person stays at the water, the more bug assortment rises.

Six hundred fifty river miles done. Less than planned, more than likely. This was an indescribable and mysterious experience that now will be with me always, and maybe with you. Before launching, a dear friend gave me a reading “Conquering Your Fears,” she said, so I kept it with me throughout. Anxiety can grab on any time, it said, it may arise from any situation or spiritual attack. Regardless of where it comes, it is important to look up when frightened. Get help identifying the fear to bring it to the surface where its presence can be seen. Expose its roots. Like apprehension about darkness, it might be linked to my history. Why do I respond as I do, I can ask. This is how we face our fears, I am told, so I can trust the way it comes to me. Face my fear by hiding truth in my heart, it read, and know it’s this truth that protects, helps, and provides for all my steps. I am well and at home now. Over multitude of challenges and unknowns and the miles of the river, I am strong, able, better even than before I did it. I have love and memory from when I passed over the water for many days, alone. I have been blessed to have done this and then return home again.


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Jul 25, 2022

Really enjoyed reading this blog. Thank you for taking me to the depths of you and your trip. E

Roberta Rathert
Roberta Rathert
Jul 30, 2022
Replying to

Thanks, E, for your comment. I appreciate that you read my writing and enjoyed it.

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