“They must have released the dam early this morning!” I excitedly pointed to Laura, my super-cool co-worker at the Polk County Parks and Recreation Department. I had visited the river the day before I was to begin my two day, 25 mile trip down the Green River—a scouting mission to identify any river hazards or blockages for future river trips. Unloading the kayak I was ecstatic: 1) two days on the river with the trees, wildlife, and any cool people I may happen to meet. 2) Experiencing a change of season and reflecting on my first month and a half as an AmeriCorps member in Polk County, and 3) a healthy degree of uncertainty—what would be around the next river bend? A double check to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, a high-five from Laura, and I was off. Woohoo!
Paddling parallel to the road I considered the people in cars passing by, feeling anything but envy. The river made a bend right, the road continued left. Now hidden under the arching canopy of the river corridor I had returned to my favorite place. A place too often forgotten in the hustle of society. A place void of the irritating and angry buzz of our over-complicated, over mechanized lives. The anticipated wave of tranquility began to flow over and through me as the birds continued singing and the insects hummed along with their intentional, yet unhurried lives. Ahhh…mmmhh (sigh) yes, I had returned home.
“Well, this could be fun” I briefly considered were I was and heard the rapids about 100 yards ahead of me. The dam had released more water than I had anticipated, I was moving along at a comfortable pace of about 5 mph with no concern of scratching the bottom of the kayak on rocks, or needing to walk like I had anticipated. In the rapids now, I began to second guess the path I had chosen. With a good morning “splash” I had completed the final step of river initiation: I was soaked, and the kayak was filled with a few gallons of earthy river water—a good time for a lunch break.
After emptying the water from the inside of the kayak and a quick meal, I was back to paddling. After a few river miles the clouds began to clear. The forest transitioned from contemplative and mellow to energized and alive—the Sun and blue sky has that effect on most living things. The birds started singing more vigorously, the trees were soaking up energy from the now exposed sun, and I was tired of sitting. Earlier I recognized that this may be one of the last weeks where I could comfortably go swimming. Before the weather became too cool for that. Soon, I spotted my chance—a place I could easily get of the current and an appealing rock to jump from. Shirt and sandals removed, I eased in. The water was refreshingly cool, as opposed to the lazy heat the summer inflicts on the North Carolina piedmont region. I sat in the River, gazing up, admiring the trees as the beads of water ran off of me, tickling my skin. “This is too awesome”, I smiled to myself.
Further downstream I found the spot at Alexander’s Ford that I would be camping at for the night. Being on an elevated, flat bench beside the river it was a great location. With a few hours before sunset, I quickly put up my tent, stowed the kayak, and went to find some persimmons—my favorite wild edible this time of year. Knowing the persimmons preference for the forests’ edge aided in my search: after less than 100 yards in found my prize. First, I searched the ground to no avail. But, smiling I looked up at the rusty, golden nuggets and gave the tree a firm kick. Two ripe ones obligingly fell to the ground. They were perfect, neither too firm and bitter nor mushy and mutilated by a former taster. There were in their fruity prime. I sucked on the seeds as I happily ran toward the newly constructed trail that runs from the parking area all the way to the River. Dotted with educational placards and a cool walking bridge constructed by the National Park Service, I am sure it will soon be a family favorite. As the sun was setting I zipped up my tent to catch up on some reading and prepared to sleep.
Waking to the full moon I heard something rustle past my kayak, toward my tent. My first thought was raccoons—my favorite nocturnal bandit. Less than 100 yards away, one coyote cleared his throat and established the note for the evenings’ symphony. Her friends eagerly joined in. Having not camped in over a month, I was excited to listen to the symphony as I fell back to sleep.
I woke to a light pitter-patter of rain on my tent from the fog that was condensing on the leaves and lightly dripping on the tent. After packing my tent, I set out for a morning snack of persimmons and a jog to wake up—the sky was threatening another glorious day. A quick double check to ensure I hadn’t forgotten anything and I was down the river!
In the fog around the first river bend I was greeted by the hazy sun and three deer drinking from a gravel bar in the middle of the river—an image I hope to not forget. The river had dropped a couple of feet since the previous mornings’ release, requiring me to get out and walk for a while. I enjoyed admiring the large birch trees in the section of river—they have always been one of my favorite trees. Soon, I flowed down to where the Green River meets the Broad River. After the merge, the river became significantly wider. As the last bridge came into view, I paddled to the left side of the river, where Laura would be picking me up soon.
“So how was it?” Laura asked as we loaded the kayak. “Great,” I quickly replied. But it wasn’t just “great”, it was: a momentary break from technology and society; a chance to listen deeply; to see and feel more; to think independently; and to connect more intimately with the landscape where I am living. On my trip I was able to see a plethora of wildlife: migrating birds, monarch butterflies, massive trees, many different kinds of ducks, and a king fisher and blue heron who escorted me through a few bends in the river. I hope you too can get out and enjoy this wonderful landscape.