It was Father's Day this past weekend, which means my family was on the river: it has become our new tradition, or is becoming a tradition, to float the John Day every Father's Day weekend. It's probably the best way we have of honoring my dad, who is best suited for the wildness of rivers and rocky stretches of ridge lines, and of course, it's very fun. We go in good company, with my most of my mom's family there, so we form a long flotilla of boats gliding around each bend. Rivering is good for us, our bodies and our minds.
What I didn’t know was that I couldn’t know the land until I got to know her waters. It was the river that showed me the world I was living in—canyon walls etched with upheaval, harboring secrets of tropical rainforests and long-dead fish, the soft undulations of sagebrush rolling out to meet the horizon on either side of you and the boat, the patches of red, iron-rich dirt baring themselves in a lusty riot of color. We drink in steep cathedral walls stopped forever on their hurry to tumble down, we see marks of other places here in our own soil. What is Oregon is also Montana, is also a volcano and a glacier, and maybe a flood. For a place I thought I knew well, a piece of country I’ve walked and stared at and seen lots of, the river revealed I knew nothing at all.