Wednesday Words on the Wild: Rivers

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. ~ John Wesley Powell

The river is constantly turning and bending and you never know where it’s going to go and where you’ll wind up. Following the bend in the river and staying on your own path means that you are on the right track. Don’t let anyone deter you from that. ~ Eartha Kitt

Rogue River at Natural Bridge OR

While working at a camp near Santa Cruz during the summer of 1993, a co-worker and I planned a rash overnight visit to Yosemite. Despite having very little money (we were working for about $100/week, plus room and board), and only one day off (at the same time), we’d lucked into an affordable, last-minute reservation at Curry Village and that seemed sufficient preparation. We ventured forth across California through the night and drove into the park after the entrance station closed, thus avoiding the fee.

However, if you didn’t pay on the way in, you paid on the way out. After a long day of hiking and swimming, possessing only enough gas money for the return drive, we opted to once again avoid the fee by exiting after the station closed. Starved and exhausted, Nathan and I stowed his car at an inconspicuous pullout (amongst those of backpacking hikers) and then climbed over rocks, maneuvered through bushes, and finally settled down on a sandy “beach” beside the Merced River to wait, without even flashlights to find our way back to the road. And then the sun went down.

A Heraclitus quote I’ve seen translated as, No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man, describes that trip perfectly. I have no regrets – despite waking up in pitch black darkness, in unknown woods, sunburned and covered by mosquito bites – but these days, I pay the fee and leave when I want.

Actually, after telling that story, now I’m feeling one regret: the fee. I’ve donated above and beyond to NPS causes in the years since, but maybe I will go renew my annual pass right now…

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