Rapid Musings: The Eternal Wisdom Behind Blossom Bar
A Mom’s Timeless Advice for Running one of the Rogue River’s Biggest Rapids
On the otherwise playful-as-an-otter Rogue River, Blossom Bar is a serious rapid. Not a terrible rapid, or even an evil one—yes, there is such a thing as an evil rapid—but a have-fun-but-keep-both-eyes-open sort of rapid.
The trick at Blossom Bar is to coax your raft into the safety of the eddy behind Wave Rock. (If the number of named rocks in a rapid is a measure of its significance, then Blossom Bar is a deeply important bit of whitewater.) The pause in this eddy buys a guide the time to maneuver her raft into a tiny slot away from the Picket Fence, a cluster of rocks on river left. It’s the sort of intimidating obstacle that’s hard to take your eyes off but the very act of focusing too hard on it, watching it too closely, is what will park your boat there. A veritable garden of bright colored boats appear here in the summer, wrapped badly and left to their fate.
When I was still learning to row a raft and feeling particularly scared of Blossom Bar, my mother—a former river guide and my first teacher—said this: “Don’t get worked up and pull too hard. Remember, you’re more likely to hit the rock and get spun out of the eddy than you are to not catch it.”
This is good advice, of course, because the Picket Fence might be the most obvious thing a boater wants to avoid in Blossom Bar, but it’s not the only thing. In the excitement of trying to miss the first danger, it can be easy to pull oneself into the way of another hazard. And, in fact, the easiest error to make at Blossom Bar is to careen away from the Picket Fence, to collide with the Wave Rock rather than tucking behind it, and to get spun back out into exactly what you wanted to miss.
In fact, this is my mother’s favorite advice to me and although it’s most often prescribed for Blossom—keep your cool, don’t pop an oar, don’t pull too hard—it’s been applied to many other rapids too, like Crystal on the Grand Canyon or Warm Springs on the Yampa.
Stay calm. Don’t panic. Be precise.
Applicable life advice too.
But it made sense to me on the water, in a rapid, even if I couldn’t quite conceive of the importance of moderation at age 19, 20, 21, 22, 23…when all I wanted to do was run rivers, when I was aching with some tight, wild yearning to chase anything as long as it was something that wouldn’t let me get my hands around it.
Blossom Bar was the first place I really got the importance of equanimity, of finding an alert balance between action and reaction. Or what yogis might call the simultaneous sweetness and steadiness of a pose. The ability to softly hold onto the plan (“catch the Wave Rock eddy”), and to also hold every back-up plan at the ready (“spin the boat, go for the spare oar, tee up to the rock”).
Eventually Blossom Bar got easier. I learned to breathe in the middle of the rapid and running it felt less like an adrenalized game of pinball.
And that feeling, the sweetness of steadiness, began to spread out across my life from where I first grasped it in the eddy behind Wave Rock.