Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Snoqualmie, Part II

I hadn't planned on writing more about our float on the Snoqualmie River, except that the subject came up at Nick's party today. 

The kids and Mike were running around in the woods, playing laser tag.  Adrenaline Sports does such a good job that they were all sweaty, both when they came in for a drink midway through, and later when they were finished. By the sounds of the shouting and laughter, I could tell that the kids were incredibly happy. 

I was trying to wrangle the women to sit with my friend who has MS and can't get up as easily to wander around.  I have to say that I was proud that I finally had these women sitting in a circle, all of us talking about school and age issues and such.  I'm pretty sure a couple of them understood what I was trying to do.

Then, someone asked me about the river float on Saturday.  Another woman nodded.  They know that I'm a drama queen at heart and I'd make it up into a good story.  Well, I did and told the whole story, but then when my friend Rachel had her hand up over her mouth, not seeming to breathe, and all of the women were silent, I realized that I might have done too well at telling the story.  I could just see all of them pulling their boys out of the Scout troop because of what could have happened.

"We face this stuff every day," I said.  Even in my own ears, it sounded lame.  Then I remembered that it was true.  I told them about the time my truck slid on black ice on an overpass going sixty miles an hour in traffic.  I saw 'Peterbilt' up close out my passenger side window, narrowly missed the back of a truck on my left side, then hit the guardrail, deflecting it by eight or ten inches where I stopped instead of rolling down a steep embankment onto train tracks through which a train raced about four minutes after I came to a stop. Every extra minute is a gift after something like that happens. 

I told them Mike and I faced it every time we went whitewater rafting, canoeing, climbing, or caving with our Explorer Post back in the eighties and nineties.  I have felt that edge when a thunder storm kicked up and all we had for protections was a nylon tent that was millimeters thick.  I remember the time we found out there was an escaped convict out in the woods with us in Pennsylvania.  Did I tell you about that?  I'll tell you about that some time.

Why does it feel so different now?

Because I'm a mother and I've already imagined every way something could go disastrously wrong.  I've examined the ways losing my boy could cut my sails right out from under me.   It feels different now, these risks, yet I never regret all the time I've spent on the river, in the caves, even climbing, though I wasn't all that good at the climbing. 

Yesterday, I talked to Mike about the whole thing some more. 

"That boy was fine," he said.  I felt that he was missing something.  "Our friend was just embarrassed that he fell out of the boat," he said.

"I saw it differently," I told him.  "Maybe it is better if I don't go on all of these trips if you don't need me there.  I'm always going to see this stuff differently now that I'm older."  Now that I'm a mother is what I meant.

I just now realized that the boy who fell out of the canoe didn't come to the party today. I hope that doesn't mean anything.

All of these mothers kept staring at me, and I became dumbfounded.  I didn't know what else to say. 

Then one of them stepped in to help.

"Cathy said she floated that river and fell out by a log.  There was a guy there who threw her a rope.  It was really dangerous.  She said she thought she was going to die."

One of the teenaged girls who had come spoke up. 

"That happened to me too."

"Did a guy there throw you a rope too?" I asked.

"No, my brother came down in a bigger raft and pulled me out.  I could feel the water sucking me under.  I was clinging to this huge tree and there was almost nothing to hold onto.  I couldn't get my legs out and I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold on before my brother came through in a bigger raft and grabbed me."

There it was.  After asking some more questions, I came to the realization that both of them were talking about the same spot on the Snoqualmie river.  The huge log and the stump were arranged in a pretty unique way with most of the water channeled straight into them.  Somehow, this talk deflected that intense mother sense away from me. 

I don't remember the parents being this intense when Mike and I were in the High Adventure Explorer Post when we first met.  I don't even remember the parents.  Didn't they know what could be happening to their children, that this stuff was inherently risky? 

So, I ask you, is there any redeeming reason why these activities are actually healthy? 

I think there is, but it's hard to explain. 

You might remember that I was nearly sucked into a strainer too.  We were on the Suiattle, a powerful yet deceptive river and the log jam was the size of a house above the water.  I know what it means to be yanked away from certain death. 

I have nearly died so many times that I'm aware of that I've lost count.  There were four ways right there on that overpass.  There was the time on the Suiattle river.  There was a time when a car on the other side of the road made a sudden left turn in front of me and I had to make a sharp right turn to avoid a head-on collision.  There was the time lightening struck a tree next to where I was standing and chunks of it hit me in the face, yet I was unharmed.  I can't count the number of times I've had an adrenaline rush at something stupid that was happening on the road.  Oh, and what about the time I hiked sixteen miles down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with only two cans of Dr. Pepper and two Snickers bars in my pockets?  Didn't I tell you about how stupid that was? 

For each of these times when I survived, I have a sense of awe.  I'm aware that I didn't have anything to do with that luck.  It was mostly dumb luck, yet these incidents left me with a sense of awe.  When I told that kid on Saturday that he had an important story to tell, I wasn't trying to distract him or make him laugh.  I knew that his body and mind were going to react to his situation.  I wasn't sure how he'd come out the other side, in awe or angry and defeated. 

I came out the other side with such gratitude that I was still alive.  I could have died, but, by the grace of God, I didn't. 

You know, I honestly believe that I lived because I had something I needed to do.  I was not done giving yet.  I have wondered what that was and I'm sure, most of the time, that my life with Nick and Mike are a big clue to the answer.

People talk to me about taking risks, but what are the risks to never taking a risk?

I could die sitting on my couch, an aneurism, a meteorite, a mud slide.  In fact, I read that a sedentary life can take as much as ten years off your life.  That's not good. 

Yet, I'm not quite ready to see my boy, or even one of his friends, face that ultimate possibility, that at any moment, it could all be over.  Sitting amid my circle of friends, I could see that they weren't either.

Thank you for listening, jb

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