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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Infuriatingly Meaningless Cliches: A John Day River Meditation

Sang the catfish:

When I was just a fry in school,
I asked my teacher, "What will I be?
Should I paint pictures"
Should I sing songs?"
Here’s what she said to me:

"Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be, will be;
The future's not ours to see.
Que sera, sera,
What will be, will be."

It’s a hard song to sing with a hook in your lip.

Scott setting out from the Service Creek Launch Point
Photo copyright 2012 by Fred Lee

…are often perceived as a metaphor for Life.
Except in the case of this particular river, we’ve had to acquire a permit to float on it and we’ve exhaustively studied its map ahead of time. Between Kip and Uncle Rico and me, we have GPS locations for where we’d like to end up each day, and we’re pretty sure we know when the trip is going to end.
So it’s going to be a very loose metaphor – a three day vacation over a predetermined path.

Also unlike ‘Life’, it turns out you’re not supposed to leave any poop at the campsites on the John Day River so you have to bring along a special poop bucket (15 bucks and therefore a communal poop bucket) to take it all out with you. The yoke for my canoe, the specially shaped crossbeam with a neck shaped notch in it (that allows me to carry the canoe as well as serve as my seat when I pilot the canoe solo) finally yields to the ever increasing mass of my ass and snaps – an accusatory ‘crack’ echoes back and forth across the valley walls. Fortunately, the poop bucket makes a handy alternative captain’s chair. There’s gotta be a sermon in there somewhere – piloting my canoe down the river of life from the vantage point of my poop bucket – but I don’t see it yet.

Kip in his trusty Marauder, taking a veritable bounty from ‘Life’

Uncle Rico in his beer ladened Aqua-pod, displaying his fishing form. Since beer is not naturally found on this section of the river and comes from ‘beyond’, then metaphorically speaking, the freezing cold cans symbolize blessings or answers to prayer.

We coated small-mouth bass filets in Louisiana fish-fry powder/breading and pan fried them. It was maybe the third time in my life that I was able to make a meaningful contribution to a community meal by using my fishing ‘skills’.

Capturing, killing, cooking, sharing and eating fish…is probably the original idea Jesus had when he came up with communion.

After eating fish in this fashion, I’d like to punch Ronald MacDonald once in the face for each filet-O-fish sandwich I ever bought and shout, “liar!” 

It was hot out, and even after the sun dipped down below the hills and the frogs began broadcasting their incessant demands for sex up and down the river, there was no appreciable change in the temperature. So I decided to follow Uncle Rico’s example and sleep out under the stars sans tent. Even then, the sleeping bag proved to be too warm and so I unzipped it completely and used it like a blanket…and there under moonbeams so harsh they cast shadows, I learned that I was by no means at the top of the food chain.

The whine of tiny insect wings, the gentle tickling of a spider’s legs, and the unidentified scuttling noise that made scorpions live in my imagination left me feeling like a defenseless piece of meat, a few pounds lighter in the morning due to blood loss.

Set amidst barren, sometimes painted hills, it soon becomes evident that rivers aren’t metaphors for life….they are life. We are like red blood corpuscles that must continually interface with the Earth’s circulatory system.

Kip casting in the cool of dawn before the sun finds us in the shade of the valley.

Kip and Uncle Rico standing on the shore of camp number one, monitoring the cat fish lines.

The catfish eyes the pliers and tries to puzzle out their purpose. While not as sharp as a hook, the pliers do have a jaw-like aspect to them and the catfish feels a growing sense of unease. He tries to whistle a happy tune, but his lips are too dry. Instead, the catfish whispers agonizingly:

It is what it is.

Sometimes, I just don’t have words.

Towards afternoon of the second day, towering anvil shaped clouds stood here and there on the horizon, bobbing and weaving, looking for a way into the valley. 

The shade provided by a passing cumulonimbus cloud was welcome.
We paused to enjoy the warm rain…
…listened to the thunder tumble down the hills…
...watched impossibly large raindrops splash into the river.

Photo copyright 2012 by Fred Lee

Kip finally qualifies for his submarine commander license.

Horses greet us at campsite number two.

Uncle Rico and a Catfish – the catfish is on the right.

The sun kisses the mountains goodnight - leaving a brief warm, red-lipstick imprint.

Thank you Earth.
You were a wonderful host.

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