The water runs swift, fastest in memory, on the river called Salmon, also nicknamed The River of No Return. This longest undammed river in the lower 48 states runs 425 miles cutting its way through central Idaho. The Salmon gained its nickname because early explorers could float down the river but not return upstream due to the tremendous current.
Beauty surrounds us as our nine-member family prepares for a rafting adventure down 37 miles of the Salmon. The granite walls formed eons ago by the inner earth’s rising hot lava frame the river. A raven’s caw from atop a majestic pine is heard as a bald eagle silently soars by surveying the rapids below. Elk eating leisurely on a river bank ignore our admiration. Remnants of an old mining trail are sliced into a nearby mountainside where Charley White is buried after being murdered in 1898 over a dispute about sugar. Both sorrow and joy reside in the history of this great river.
The context for our adventure is set. As generations before us, we slide our rafts into the water and soon hear the growing sound of rapids coming from around the nearest bend. Beauty and excitement abound. If this is not paradise, it is close enough.
Turning the first bend, we all take a deep breath as we see a large rapid looming in front of us. There is a shared thrill in knowing we can’t turn around and we must start paddling. We are committed. The professional river guides confidently direct our rafts and us through the rapid while we are momentarily captured by raging waters. As the day goes on it becomes apparent the river possesses periods of small and great risk, frightening moments, and from time to time smooth, calm, relaxing respite.
The day of rapids, shouts, laughter, and excitement comes to an end. Our camp is set up on a sandy beach. We eat steak and shrimp, start a fire in the firepit, tell exaggerated stories, and share the gifts of caring and love. The setting sun of changing colors joins our laughter as a large cutthroat trout jumps to catch the last sparkle of sunlight. Late evening comes, followed by night, and then a new morn. Sunrise, sunset.
Early the next morning our three-generation family of old, mature, and young individuals shares a sacred quiet moment as we observe and experience the world from different perspectives. The old brought to tears by memories and gratitude, the mature absorb the fullness of the moment while aware life will bring change and at times threatening waves, and the young find hope, excitement, and optimism in the moment talking about white water covering their heads as the old watch syringa beginning to bloom along the river banks. Reflection is not dominant in the minds of the young, but it is in the thoughts of the mature, and even more so for the old. All perspectives have their place and there is value to be found and shared in each. On the river liberty and justice for all is easily found and their truth self-evident. We can choose to gain new thoughts and insights from different perspectives or become rigid and fight over sugar.
Following breakfast, I sit on a large rock and watch the growing sun’s morning smile welcome a new day. Second cup of coffee in hand, I reflect on oneness with the river and recognize that all our lives spill into the world as the world spills over into us. This has been true since before the rock I sit on was formed.
As the river, our lives are never the same from moment to moment, day to day, and year to year. The breath we share is ever changing, and the greatest gifts of life, such as love and gratitude, find their deepest meaning when they are given away. This fundamental truth is inherent in the culture of the Nez Perce who have inhabited this river for millennium.
While from one perspective the river is never the same, from another viewpoint it is always constant. The Salmon River brings to mind Old Man River, a show tune from the 1927 musical Show Boat, that describes the uncaring flow of the Mississippi River…reminding that no matter what happens in life, the river just keeps rolling.
Ol’ Man River,
Dat Ol’ Man River
He mus’ know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’ keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.
After a second day of rafting, we leave the eternal River of No Return just before sunset. As dusk approaches I think of having rafted this same river many years ago. Then as now there is ever-moving water with the seasons changing around it. The classic song Sunrise, Sunset from the 1964 movie Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind:
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laiden with happiness and tears
There is magic to be found on The River of No Return. May we all within the rivers and seasons of our lives experience the intertwining of love and gratitude, bringing strength to our white waters and peace to the calm.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization. He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.
More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…
From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.
In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.