Free Will: A river knows this

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Kirk Smith/THE REVIEW
This week, Will lets the river take him away, and teach him lessons as it does.

BY
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Unlacing my boots, thinly coated with dehydrated dust and soil particulates, meant I was going to jump in. My knees bent, and as they began to store potential energy, a rush of nerves start inching up my spine, culminating in the jolting of my disposition. Eagerness turned into indecisiveness, and looking down at the Little Snake River, I saw its swirling eddy lines, its ferocious movement, feeling as though leaping in wouldn’t result as predictably as previously thought.

My attention is turned to the friends who have already met the rapidity as they swiftly move downstream, their faces soaked in delight. I take one look upstream to glimpse, if only for a second, at the white water and its bravado. Currents like these are formidable; they present themselves unmasked, telling an onlooker the exactness of its might. But what fun would it be to stand on the riverside? Deprivation of such an experience quickly becomes the opposite, and I make the leap, now swallowed by the rush.

When I open my eyes, head-deep in the river, I find myself surrounded by tails of refracted sunlight cut off from their source, alone, entropically moving about in the slush of invigoration. Only recently was the Little Snake appearing in this rendition, one marked by danger and distinct invitation to those curious enough.

Being that it was early summer, that meant snowpacks weren’t hesitating to drain out their melt of accumulated snow from the winter. High above, in the peaks overlooking rivers like this, UV rays turned winter powder into summer water, and from there, gravity took control, causing the water to saturate the river basins below.

The Little Snake is a 155-mile tributary of the Yampa River, which is a 250-mile tributary of the Green River, and so forth, until all beginnings of the Colorado River Basin are bound together in the jagged edges of the Rocky Mountain. It seems as though all rivers met their end at the ocean, with smaller ones forging bonds to create larger rivers until the narrative is no longer a collection of streams, but the grandeur of a limitless horizon — the ocean’s front.

I’m now floating on the surface, having risen up from the swallows of the Little Snake. To my surprise, my movement has easily synchronized with that of the river, so the speed at which I find myself moving is initially jarring. Never before have I laid flat with my eyes to the sky and not known where I was going with any intelligent prediction. I didn’t choose to lay face forward, attempting to navigate with precision as I find the nearest island to rest. I wanted to feel the river, to behold how water is in its most formidable form, how something amorphous can spring into structure. And how that structure, voracious today, is a reminder of nature’s benign touch, encompassing all, leaving out none.

From a river’s perspective, there is no being that is more privy than another to is bounty. What a river provides is for all: nourishment, a deliverance of replenishing nutrients. It holds no one special regard because selflessness drives its purpose. For a river that exists does not give its subaquatic collection of fish to the hungriest of bears, nor does it oxygenize those creatures deemed most deserving. For every hungry bear there is a diminutive doe, and for every elusive fish there is another fighting to survive.

A river knows this.

As for us, we dam and blockade rivers in an attempt to harness the bruteness one can theoretically derive. Yet in doing so, it feels like we forget the purpose of its organic flow, the reason it existed where it was in the first place. Rivers patiently travel down the same path for millennia after millennia, slowly creating a place in the background of mountain-tops and desert floors, in parched, arid climates and dampened forests. Its transient nature is an invisible virtue, but one that deserves admiration.

Rivers exist as our greatest giver of life, exemplar in their practice of patience and nurturing all, something I felt as the cold water prevailed and stung my body with similar temperatures. The reenergizing forces of the river are benevolent, no matter how fearsome it looks from the shore. What might appear as an unprincipled presence is, in actuality, there to keep our souls afloat.

Mine rests atop the turmoil of this river’s current state, and my thoughts, my gaze and attention are lucid, soaking in the restorative essence while I hastily charge past a divot on the shore, the indication I have to swim perpendicular from the downstream flow. Knowing I need to get back soon, I engage my arms and legs in order to return back to the swelter of dry land.

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