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My feet//Hoh River

I walked the edge of the sandy, pebbled riverbed and water licked my toes- water so glacial blue it made the sky look a pale wallflower hiding behind the emerald tree line. The Hoh River expanded out in front of me, stretching big like a cat lazily catching every last bit of a filtered sunbeam. I saw eddies where I knew Steelhead would pool before heading on their way, and sparkling rocks that seemed more polished obsidian than sandstone. The air was perfumed with the first exhale of morning breeze- pollen, spray from the rapids, lingering campfire, dust and pine.

No one was around. I had left our tent with a backpack holding a towel, some camp soap, a book of Grace Paley short stories and a book of her poetry, and an extra t-shirt. My pajama pants were getting spots of water on the hem, so I rolled them as high as they would go, my winter legs gasping for air and reflecting the morning light bouncing off that deep blue water.

I recalled something Grace Paley had written that I had read just a few moments before:

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”

I listened to her- one of my myriad spirit mothers who seems to understand the erotic mess that is the stumbling search for sense in life. After I breathed, I suddenly wanted to jump into the freezing spring run off. I felt all the clenched muscles of my heart and my hamstrings and my neck start to loosen in the primal pull of the water.

When we were hiking the Cape Flattery trailhead two nights before, in the fast approaching twilight, we stood on top of the sandstone cliffs and looked down at the foaming water pummeling the rocks. The earth held firm, but it won’t forever. Soon (relative to All History, not Human His-story) it will be gone. I said out loud over the din of the ancient, patient reshaping, “water always wins.”

The quarter inch of water on my feet was frigid, numbing. But my mind was suddenly clear, open, and languid in the space between hot sun and cold water. I wanted to immerse in it. Stepping out into the water, the first step took my calves underneath, and then my knees.  In four steps I was up to mid thigh in the middle of birdsong and water that had traveled fast down cliffs to slow down and meet me and reshape me for as long as my warm blooded, mammalian body could take it.

There are places that escape the language we’ve hastily constructed to encase them. They defy us, and in our awestruck silence, they let us know that they’ve been here before, and will be here after, and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can trap their essence, or define their message.  We can’t anthropomorphize that kind of persisting beauty. The best we can do is wade in it, open our arms in the middle of the morning Hoh River, and hum a wordless chorus.

I dipped my head in, my hair mapping the current, and splashed cold handfuls down my neck, and I felt clean. My toenail polish glinted the same color as the water, and when I flipped my icy curtain of hair, the ends hit the middle of my warm spine and made me yelp a little bit. I was jumping and awake and felt suddenly so joyous I stopped humming and started crying. The wordsmith in me wanted to find something new to say about what unfolded before me, and what was unfurling in me, but in the absence of anything, smacked speechless and held close by the transmuting waters around my legs…what was left were tears. I let the water win, and my hypervigilant controlling words lose…if just for a moment.

I laid on the sand, one foot still playing with the burbling side current, my body drying, until I could no longer take the stunning wordless landscape, and I got up, sand coating my fingers and toes, and walked back into my human language and limitations- clean, quiet, peaceful.

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