Sunday, October 25, 2015

Living Beyond Walls

A storm has just moved in. The wind is gusting, leaves are cartwheeling across the grass. Trees arch, bend, dance. There goes my watering can. A cushion. A puppy...

Okay, not a puppy.

Maybe it was a squirrel.

Maybe, just a brown bag.

The thing is, I’m watching all this from inside my house, sitting at the kitchen table, safe, warm and comfortable. A well-protected front seat to Oregon's first good autumn storm.

Which is one of the reasons I decided leave for the Grand Canyon in 22 days. I and thirteen others will be rafting the Colorado River for a month. Mid November to mid December. It promises to be cold. Possibly stormy. The water will be unforgiving. There will be no shelter but my tent, and an evening fire. No escape but onward. And though this scares me, it feels necessary.

I lose something when I am too comfortable. It depresses or represses me—something like that. I think I become sloth-like. A creature moving from warm bed to warm coffee to warm car to warm fire burning by my warm leather chair with a nice warm cat purring on my lap. The both of us, sloth-like. Sleep curling its finger toward itself, a sexy lady licking her lips, encouraging me to slip on in—and out.

Branches are shaking themselves loose now. They shoot through the air — arrow like. And the sound of the rain on the skylight is like a million tiny tap dancers, amped on speed. The last of the Dahlias are being ripped of their petals. Purple, yellow and scarlet exclamation points punctuate the ground. And there goes another cushion. A potted plant. A bird feeder.

I love it when the weather turns rough. I love to walk in it, hike in it. Bike, even. I remember once my son, Elijah and I were riding our bikes through a bad spring storm. Wind, rain, cold, and then somewhere around mile 30—hail. We pulled over and high-tailed it to a tree, clinging as close to its trunk as possible to avoid the pebble-sized pellets of ice. When the hail stopped, we got back on our bikes and made our way down the road through a good three inches of slush. And you know what Elijah said?

"I'm glad we are doing this today."
That's right, he was glad.
"Of course, it would be nicer if it were seventy degrees and sunny, but isn't it good to know we can do this?"

He was fourteen then. A year earlier he had said the same thing when he and I were caught in a wild and windy, winter-like storm high up on Ross Lake in the Northern Cascades. This time we were in a row boat, him guiding the outboard motor. We were ten miles from our cabin on a long finger of a lake jutting into Canada, snow covered mountains towered beside the lake, the land entirely wilderness. The storm had come up fast, black clouds suddenly gathering up their breath then blowing hard, chopping the water into knife edged waves which crested over our boat, slamming us with icy water. I was worried. More than worried, really. Isn't this just the type of thing you read about? A woman and her kid lost on a lake? I looked back at Elijah, ready to make my to him to take over. But one look told me, I did not have to. He gripped the throttle and gunned the boat forward taking the waves head on, his eyes focused on the channel. He was entirely wet—wet face, wet hair, wet clothes, and it was entirely cold—the wind so loud we had to shout to be heard. I waited for his complaints, his fear, something. But nothing came. He had a job to do and he was determined to do it. He was thirteen, and he was saving our lives. Afterward, safe in our cabin, he did have something to say. He was glad to have had that experience. Glad to know it can be done, and that we did it. Glad. 

I found all kinds of new respect for my son on those days. He understands there is something gobsmacking special about stepping out into the weather—having the wind blow us sideways, and the rain pound against not roof and window, but flesh. Feeling it, smelling it, understanding in some essential way that it makes our days richer, bigger, better. He knows there is something altogether good and strong when we opt to feel the fullness of where and what we are.

No longer a sloth, but a high flying bird, catching the wind and soaring on.  

-Naseem Rakha