• Roberta Rathert

I Know Everything.

Today is a sunny and warming day in Wisconsin where spring is late in its coming.

I see out my window this morning and the people are walking with out jackets, some in shorts and t-shirts. I didn’t go that far, but I am thinking of pitching my tent and sleeping outside tonight. A little craziness is allowed after a deep winter, and finally a long-awaited bright day shows itself. Last I wrote about the countdown to my river trip, it was 111 days away. I feel the jimjams now when I look at my numbered chart marked 29 days.

The Mississippi River is in the news on paddling sites. Everyone wants to know when they can go in. It reminds me of that jumping-up-and-down feeling at first spring when town kids were buzzing back and forth on their bikes, fresh from basement storage. They were riding through puddles and snowmelt with glee. Our mom wouldn’t allow it. It’s only going to snow again, she’d holler, and who’s gonna put those bikes away then!? So boisterous with spring fever, we didn’t care about snow. And how did she even know it was coming anyway?

News from the headwaters, like most news, is ambiguous and causes me to mope, maybe like a kid without a bike in springtime. Too much water is a surging deluge, but low water makes pulling a boat on a dry bed of stones unreasonable. These uncertain reports defy my winterlong sensible plans for a river trip for which I’ve included only perfect water and no bears. I haven’t counted in the two-foot ice on Lake Winnibigoshish or cold nights below the tolerance on my sleeping bag label. But I did, however, plan for big mosquitos and semi-large spiders for which

I’ve packed a couple of head nets and a far-reaching flyswatter.

I don’t easily adapt to altered or unclear plans because it’s difficult to adjust readily and, as humans, we are not created to accept change without first being consulted. We can’t look around corners or into the future, or even through a dark night. That’s why we love movie characters who have magic powers and x-ray vision, and why well-lit areas are preferred over shadowy places. We long to see what we cannot, but regardless of this desire, we still are unable to do it.

In 1966, my uncle who lived in a city came to visit. I thought he was really something because he was not from a small town and wasn’t a farmer. He brought me a periscope, a word I’d never heard before and I had never seen anything like it. Inside it were sets of tiny mirrors, and one end of it rotated. I could not believe it was mine or that it did what it did. I used it for everything. Spying on birds and my sister, pretending about things with it, like if I was in the Army. I laid under a large pile of dried leaves peering at people who walked by. It was what all people want, to see where human eyes won’t bend.

An overhead view of the first 100 miles of the Mississippi River shows how it snakes, switching back in curling form, this it does for countless miles. Stretches of the Mississippi River in the south, below Baton Rouge, wind tightly along the way there, too.

How do we see around these bends? I wonder how fast a kayak can go in reverse if a bear and her cubs were in the water just around the turn. I suppose one could come head-on with anything. One time I was paddling along when a speeding motorboat came flying around the bend right at me. We were both shocked and worried. He was speeding and I had drifted away from the bank. The fisherman didn’t know what to do, so he swerved back and forth gambling which way I might go. I did the same thing, swerving left to right, not sure what way he’d go. We barely missed a head-on impact, but I still caught his significant wake. After that, we both went our ways with no looking back, pretending nothing had happened. But here I am, telling about it still.

I have been thinking a lot about the unknown, right before my trip as I count down these last days, and what might come to me. I know some people who use drones to go up ahead and check for a bear that might be headed toward camp, or a subdivision of new homes just behind the tree line from their wilderness campsite. I am just not sure of the advantage of knowing how many beaver dams are blocking my way up ahead, or if there is an old gone-aground spooky boat planted in the bank, covered in years of weeds and nesting birds.

I really can’t know what I don’t know. This is the trouble with humans, we want to know about tomorrow when it’s still today. People feel a need to know what they might face before they’ve gotten a good look at what is in front of them. Gertrude Stein knew what she was talking about when she said, “Whenever you get there, there is no there there.”

Today I will try not to fret about a bear bearing down on my campsite, or a giant wolf spider racing at me in my tent, or pondering where I haven’t yet arrived. Whatever is around the corner or behind where my eyes can’t penetrate, whoever might want something I don’t have, or what I’ll have to lift that is too heavy for me, the worry of it is bigger than the thing itself.

God made this world and gave life to us. He has said he is here and will never let us down. He won’t walk off and leave me, no matter what is around the next river bend or lumbering toward me at night. God doesn’t change, we do. He is always totally himself, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but we are unreliable that way. If he’s looking ahead, preparing us for what is on the way, like Eugene Peterson wrote down, here’s what I have decided is the best way to live: have a good time, and make the most of whatever I have for as long as God gives me life. And that’s about it. That’s the human situation. It’s okay to make the most of what is God-given mine, it’s the abundance and the ability to experience it. It’s the gift, we have the present, the now. So, it’s useless to brood over how long we will be here, what of our plans changed without our approval, or how big is the spider hiding near me. I want to know everything, but I don’t.

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