I’d spent 25 years in the mountains, but I didn’t understand you at all. You were a mystery to me, beautiful and powerful and intimidating.
You have your own language. You’re full of features like holes and whirlpools and boils, pour-overs, things I didn’t even know how to define. You are such a force of energy.
As a blind kayaker, I can only experience an environment by putting myself in it, even if it scares me. I feel chaos in the space around you, a massive roar so guttural, it’s terrifying. Your waves create a cacophony of sound that bounces off the canyon walls.
Anytime I’m on your waters, I have a guide behind me yelling directions over a radio system in my left ear. Meanwhile, my right ear listens for your features. I decipher them through the noises, through what I feel under my boat. You put up a lot of barriers.
At the same time, you offer a way forward. With my team, my preparation, and my skill, I fulfill a yearning. I get past feelings of inadequacy and fear and self-doubt to move with you. You’re big, so much bigger than me, and you could kill me. It’s spiritual, connecting with your power.
Not every moment is so eventful. Most of the time I’m near you, you’re peaceful. I don’t have the gift of sight, but I can let your beauty in through my other senses. I feel the presence of the canyons through the echos. I touch the rocks and feel the sun and the shadows on my face.
Time and again, as I enter your big rapids, I push back the fear and feel gratitude. You can take from me, river. You can bring me to my knees, pounding my fist against the ground, but you bless me along the way. In the end, I realize there are more gifts than there are struggles.