5 Ways to Let Your Creativity Blossom on River Trips
River trips are good for many things: experiencing the beauty of whitewater as it unfurls through a canyon; spending quality technology-free time with friends and family; adventuring on side hikes; and slowing down to notice the small things like refractions of light on the water.
They also offer plenty of leisure time, good for losing yourself in a book, enjoying a game of bocce on the beach with tripmates or just sitting on the shore and letting the rhythmic pulse of the river guide your thoughts.
But here’s something else river trips offer up: a special opportunity for creativity. Scientists tell us that’s because extended immersion in nature gives our prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that is taxed by daily tasks like emails, texts, to-do lists and deadlines — a much-needed break. And when the thinking brain is given a chance to rest, it allows for more daydreaming, creative output, sensory perception and mind-wandering, as well as a heightened sense of one’s place in the world.
It’s no wonder that many of our best epiphanies, creative acts or ideas strike in the solitude of nature.
Plus, the awe factor of nature’s beauty has long been one of human kind’s greatest inspirations for creativity, fueling endless stores of paintings, poems, songs and books. So next time you’re on a river trip, let nature inspire your creativity. Here are some ideas to try:
1) Scribble it Out
Keeping a journal on a river trip is a time-tested way to track precious details, riff on the experience, experiment with poetry, sort through daydreams and goals and express your perceptions and beliefs in the larger context of life. And it’s easy: all you need is a notebook and a pen. Plus, it’s a way to record valuable history. Everyone from John Wesley Powell to Edward Abbey wrote about their river experiences in journals, leaving the world with some of the best literature there is on river life.
2) Capture a Thousand Words
Rays of light spilling over the canyon wall in the morning, lizards perched on baking rocks, the chaos of whitewater through a gorge and the serenity of a hanging garden. River trips offer a feast of visual beauty. For photographers, they make an excellent opportunity to capture moments of light, energy and magic on the water. And since nearly everyone has a camera these days, everyone from newbies to veterans can pursue capturing the perfect shot.
3) Get Visual
The natural beauty of river trips has long inspired paintings, drawings, pastels and other visual artworks. For some people, these works of art act as visual journals, denoting the canyons, landmarks and animals they saw. But the work doesn’t have to be river-related; time on the river affords an opportunity for expression, whatever shape that may take. Just bring along a sketchpad, some pencils, a watercolor kit or box of pastels. Or if you aren’t into conceptualizing, mindfulness coloring books are a great option.
4) Water Music
Sitting around a campfire is one of the oldest and most iconic settings for music making. That’s because distractions are few, inspiration is high and the lack of constraints opens musicians up to experimenting. Plus, it provides great entertainment for the non-musicians in attendance. So don’t forget to pack that guitar, mandolin, drum or harmonica. And if you aren’t a musician, don’t be afraid to chime in on a song or pick up an instrument — even an egg shaker. You never know what could come out of it.
5) Become a Raconteur
Oral storytelling is a wonderful art form whose masters provide rich entertainment on river trips — be it during long stretches of flatwater or late nights around the campfire. Try it out by brainstorming about some of the more epic adventures or funny experiences you’ve been through — like the time you took the biggest swim of your life before the river spit you alive. Add plenty of flourish, some theatrics and perhaps even a little embellishment. If you don’t have an original, pick your favorite short story (Christa Sadler’s compilation There’s This River… contains plenty) and read it aloud. Your tripmates will thank you.
Photos: Jerry Eisner, James Kaiser