Discovering Delight: What One Guest Taught Me About Happiness
By Jasmine Wilhelm4 Min. Read
I had just finished delivering the safety talk at Idaho’s Hells Canyon put-in. Guides were checking PFDs for correct fit when Bruce said, “You river guides, you bring people delight.” I paused to absorb the statement, thinking back to how many risks I’d just outlined: poison ivy, bears, cold water swims, raft flips. My expression must have revealed dissonance because he continued, “Truly! You do. Look what you’re helping us do.” I wondered if it was me, or if it was just the nature of the river? What I’d come to learn about delight over the next five days was something different entirely.
With the seed planted, I was on the hunt for delight. I found it in the dramatic and stormy skies, the heart-pumping whitewater, and the quiet wildlife we saw (a coyote, a bear cub, four otters, and many bighorn herds). There was much to be delighted by.
On day three, Barbara passed the inflatable kayak off to Bruce, who had never kayaked before. Bruce is a 53-year-old New York City-based author rocking frosted tips and a giant smile. He hopped in for what he thought would be an easy afternoon paddle for an hour. Below Pittsburg Landing the gradient flattens out and on this day the upstream winds were particularly fierce. Bruce ended up hunched forward, paddle digging deep, fighting the wind for three hours. At one point he was slumped down in his kayak, legs flopped out the sides, wailing, “Barbara! You said it would be easy!” Scott joined in the fun, “Barbara, you killed my husband!”
All sounds traveled upstream while Barbara sat peacefully downstream, watching the canyon unfold before her. Unbeknownst to her, most of the guests had joined in on the sympathetic wailing (and the giggling). What could easily have been an uncomfortable, tedious, sufferfest of an afternoon, turned into a delightfully humorous escapade we lovingly began referring to as “Barbara-gate.”
A few days later, we were enjoying a quick stop at the confluence. Just downstream of us, Confluence Camp was open, a seldom won delight. But it was early, and we hadn’t seen many other groups. Our trip leader asked if we were feeling up to continuing on to, say, Geneva Beach, just to give ourselves an easier day five? That would get us into camp when the sun wasn’t quite so high and hot. We all agreed, and we floated past the giant sandy camp.
After the confluence the river flattens out so immensely, we call it Snake Lake. If you want to move downstream, it’s of your own volition: no floating. So we leaned forward and started pushing hard and consistently to keep up our momentum. We anticipated a leisurely 45-minute float to put us in camp at a respectable 3 PM. But those notorious upstream winds kicked up again. They were unrelenting.
When I finally glimpsed Geneva, my heart sank. It was taken. The dashing of my hopes happened several more times as our 45-minute float swelled to a 3-hour-five-mile saga. Finally, as it neared 5 o’clock, we approached an empty beach. It was small. Like really, really, small. Were we all gonna fit? Are guests going to be upset? Will a sub-par camp sour our final night?
I held my breath as guests unloaded. Then Bruce gleefully shouted, “There’s a jacuzzi!” A cacophony of cheerful commentary commenced as they investigated the sun-lit rocky pool in the creek running through camp: “Oh we’re gonna need to drink beers in there!” “Look at all this creekside property for camping!” “Wow! How cool is this?” And just like that, my worries disappeared. Bruce had once again planted a seed of delight, and suddenly it was all around us.
Later, when we were laughing in the chair circle, a silence suddenly descended. We had caught sight of the moon, who’s halo was teasing us from behind the canyon wall. It emerged exactly out of the notch where the canyon walls converged. And it was full. We sang a chorus of delight. Improbably, its pathway ran perfectly parallel to the near canyon wall. We watched it climb the canyon’s stairway skyward.
“This wouldn’t have happened anywhere else,” Bruce said with awe. “We were meant to be at this campsite. We were meant to be here at this dinky beach.” The group murmured agreement.
Yes, river guides are great, and yes, the river itself is a wonder, but what I learned about delight on this trip wasn’t that. I learned that when you’re looking for delight, you will find it. And it’s a whole lot easier to find when you’ve got a delightful person reminding you that it’s all around. Thank you, Bruce, for showing us how to look.