It is my last full week here in Asheville, NC. Next Wednesday I begin the journey westward. And so it is a balancing of staying present and planning forward, without getting too far ahead of myself.
I am consciously choosing to get my feet in the river every day, to connect with the energy of the moving water, to do my modified sun salutations and to practice my river walking skills.
Walking in the river is not like walking on pavement, or even sand. The bottom is uneven. There are hidden rocks, and they are slippery with slimy moss. And so you have to take a small, sturdy step and then pause, plant your foot and make sure you are stable. Then you can step your other foot to find another secure landing. River walking is slow. Purposeful. You have to be fully present.
I wear sturdy water shoes. I even bought a new pair, since I bought my old ones when I moved to the CA beach, almost 3 years ago. My new Keen sandals, are purple. They have great Velcro straps, a rubber toe and a ½” thick sole so I don’t have to worry about my tender-bottomed feet stepping on something sharp on uneven. And the rubber soles gives me a flat landing, no matter where I step.
The first few times I went into the river, I only walked in as far as I could see the bottom. Then I followed the dappled path of sunlight on the water, moving further into the current, up to my knees. I scooted my foot along the bottom, feeling for my next step, until I was in up to my thighs. I squatted to get my whole bathing suited body wet, and it felt amazing. The water was cool on my skin as it pushed against me. I had to stay strong and balanced so I wouldn’t fall over.
Last week I finally floated in the river. I was watching my neighbor play in a 30 foot section of water in front of the beach and it looked so easy and so fun that I put on my bathing suit and joined her. She said she preferred going on her back, facing forward so she can see where she’s going. She said to aim for the rocks, two black triangular boulders that formed a seven-foot-wide breaker in the river.
I sat in the water and my body was immediately lifted by the current. I was moving and floating and it was marvelous. We floated together twice more and then she left. I was only going to float once more by myself, and then I decided it was safe enough to stay alone.
I did the float a few more times, then found a place against the big rocks where I could lie on my back in the water, my feet barely touching the rock, and I could float without get swept into the current. But if I moved slightly to the right or left, I had to quickly grab hold of the rock to keep from drifting away.
And then I found a spot, right in between. I held onto two rocks in the water below me as the current moved around me. My shoulders were back and relaxed, my heart lifted and open. I loosened my hands on the rocks beneath me until it was just my index fingers holding me, and then I let go altogether, and I was the tip of the current and the water was swirling around me, diverging around my head and my shoulders and my legs and the rock, and I was the river, and the sky was blue above me through the bright green leaves and there was a cloud, heart-shaped, I swear, drifting right across my sightline.
I closed my eyes and floated, untethered, so aware that I was not floating in the safety of Marika’s swimming pool, but here, with myself, on the wild French Broad River.
It is moments like these when I am so acutely aware of being part of something so much bigger than myself. Something I need to remember when I fall into feeling lonely.
Last night Cody and I took a much-later-than-usual evening walk around the campground. The sun was setting pinkish-red behind the mountains to the northwest and a little bit of color seeped into the sky above the river. In all this time, it was my first sunset. On the walk back home, a firefly flew right up to the bright green shape on the front of my t-shirt, hovered, lit up, then flew away.
Even though I have been here since the middle of May, every day I notice something new. The patterns in the thick moss on the stone cottage roof. The way the river curves at both ends of the campground, so that I can only see this much. How the fuzzy yellow baby Canadian geese have grow into juveniles in their black and white summer plumage.
I have moments that I think I haven’t done ENOUGH while I’ve been here, that I SHOULD HAVE been getting in the water all along and watching the sun set every night.
And then I breathe, and look at the river and wonder how I can motivate myself to just get my feet wet. As if on cue, Cody gets up from his bed, jaws his ball, then drops it down the steps in front of the door. I put on my purple water shoes and we head down to the water for our favorite game.
He stands on the beachy bank of the river next to a tree stump and drops the ball onto the exposed roots that lead to the river. The ball bounces and rolls into the slow moving water and he watches as the ball floats in the current towards where I am standing, ankle-deep in the river. I retrieve it, rinse it off and throw it onto the sandy beach. He runs, grabs it out of the sand, squishes it between his teeth a few times, then drops it back on the tree roots. It bounces and floats. He watches. I pick it up, swish it in the water, then throw it for him to retrieve again.
Between throws I practice my forward bends, my hands planted in the rocky river bed, my legs long and stretching, the back of my heart open to the sky. But I can’t stay in the pose too long or I will miss the ball floating past me.
We play like this, again and again, at his pace, both of us totally present and engaged, until he lies down with the ball in the sand. Then I sit on my sitting rock, my feet still in the moving water, and I say thank you.
What a gift I have given myself, all of this time here in this beautiful place. I am so grateful for the people I know and love here, who have made this time so rich and rewarding. I am grateful for the work I am able to do while I am here, and for the new paths that are opening up for me.
I only have the first week of my western route planned and, so far, that feels OK. I’m going to journey west as if I’m walking in the river, one sure step at a time, as far as I can feel, following the sun and the sky.