She and her 56 years floated easily in the sauntering current, buoyed by a bright orange PFD. Her crutches were haphazardly strewn in the water as she floated weightless. “If I died, this is what heaven would be like,” she said with a smile as the river held her body gently.
For Kathy, river water momentarily freed her from multiple sclerosis. It made her crutches irrelevant, and it turned her spirit into pure, unadulterated sunshine. That water made her feel whole. Rivers can do that.
Ever since my first trip down a Wild and Scenic River at age 12, I have felt grateful for how they make me feel. Discovering these protected and pristine waterways felt like suddenly finding what I did not even know I was missing but desperately needed. I could not believe I got to immerse my feet in the swirling eddy water as I watched the sun slowly set layer by layer on the canyon wall across from me like the greatest movie of all time or how I got to fall asleep on white sandy beaches every night. My mind meandered like the current: nowhere to be but downstream, and no time to enjoy but the present.
Being in a place so free from distractions is a blessing. I have needed and craved that freedom each summer. We all need those spaces free from to-do lists, glowing screens, and other daily pressures.
I have watched people become captivated by these isolated and remote stretches of river. These wild places can change people. I have watched brows unfurrow and shoulders drop. I have seen faces light up, and worries dissipate like morning fog. I have seen fears conquered, and freedom reconnected with; I have seen priorities reordered, and a passion for protection ignited.
Protected stretches of free-flowing wild rivers are a recipe for something indescribable: something magical. I am so grateful that some of my favorite places are protected so that the ecosystems can continue to flourish, and so too, the people who visit them.
Kathy is right. Free-flowing rivers are heaven. When you are in heaven, you cannot ignore the pureness and wholeness of such wildness. It is incomparable. There is a power and a peacefulness to the rock and flow of an undammed waterway. There are only miles of possibilities, and cubic feet of fun.
We are so blessed to have Wild and Scenic Rivers. Aren’t we lucky to have a place to pilgrimage to? A place to go that reminds us what it is to be whole? That reminds us of all that is out there, and all that is inside of us, too?