What Could be Better?

Lately I have been having a lot of what could be betters? It’s funny, because I am in the throes of the biggest what could be worse—heartbreak that is—but, despite the agony of a disintegrating heart, I can’t help finding that things have been more than alright.

Like the smell of pine trees and pine needles dusting a forest floor. Oh mercy. What could be better? Besides the fact that the forest might be filled with some of the most intoxicating scents to ever fill my senses, it always reminds me of our family camp which happens to be my favorite place in all the land.

Then there are my freckles. Have I spoke before now about how fondly I gaze at my freckles? If I haven’t, I’ve been remiss. My freckles bring me no small measure of delight. I like them at all times of year, but in the summer when they crop up by the dozens on my face and arms and I can make constellations with them, well, what could be better?

What about Cat Power’s song, I Found a Reason. Gosh, I forgot about that song. It came on shuffle on my sister’s ipod one morning while I was cooking a particularly Gordon Ramsay-esque breakfast and I was stopped immediately. I had to find the time to sway. What could be better? To let my stinkin’ faulty smoke detector go off if it had to, but I had to get lost in that song, in that moment. I am not one to forget in the power of music, but sometimes, something deliciously unexpected catches me off guard, like this song, and why oh why do anything but honor it?

Or how ’bout the Northern sky? Have you ever seen anything like it? It fills the whole world I am living in with its vastness: its blues, its pinks and purples, whites and greys. And that’s not even speaking of the clouds. Oh the clouds—they touch every part of the horizon, seeming to touch land and sea and everywhere in between. I was on the beach today, sitting out on a rock island a small distance out from shore, having waded through Superior’s icy waters to get there, and for so many moments I couldn’t do anything else but gaze at the sky in wonder. I felt like I was on vacation at some fancy resort, but no, this was my backyard. What could ever be better than a Northern Sky?

Lake Superior perhaps? My favorite sea. Truly she is. I was informed today that Lake Superior is considered too large to even be considered a lake, so in fact, she is an inland sea. The Ojibwe called the lake gichigami, meaning “a great sea.” With my sea-loving heart, what could be better than 3-quadrillion gallons of water at my beck and call? In the morning as I pedal into work I see her. Or in the evening on my nightly walk, waves a-blowing to shore. What could be wrong in life with Superior out my window? Even her name has bragging rights.

What could be better than having four of my six sisters living in the same town as me? Two of which live in the same apartment as me, one who spends the night most nights anyway, while the other bikes over after work. How agog am I over having my sisters near me? Well, they fill my soul with equal parts joy, comfort, hilarity and fulfillment that it can’t help but heave happy sighs of contentment.

And then, then. There is my main man. My one and only. God. What could ever be better? He is the biggest what could be better and the best of course, hence why I saved Him for last. I wouldn’t have any of my what could be betters without Him. I wouldn’t have Cat Power or extra tall pines or waves or pink skies or freckles or six sisters. So with gratitude for things of beauty and delight saturating my heart that needs it, I again say, what could be better than God? From whom all blessings flow.

So, sure, the breakup is the worst what could be worse (at least as far as my heart can tell). But if I didn’t have God, I wouldn’t be having all these what could be betters to get me through. And for that I am a very lucky girl. Very lucky indeed.

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The Old Girl’s Still Beating

I have been rather forthright about my heartache and while it’s not something I plan to prattle on about for long—as it reeks of stagnation and does not embrace the spirit of adventure—it does cloud most of my mental space on a daily basis. You know that scene in When Harry Met Sally (everything in life can easily tie back to that movie) when Harry and Sally are talking about moving past their ex’s and Harry is talking about a date he went on recently.

Harry: We’re talking dream dates compared to my horror. It started out fine, she’s a very nice person, and we’re sitting and we’re talking at this Ethiopian restaurant that she wanted to go to. And I was making jokes, you know like, “Hey I didn’t know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I’ll order two empty plates and we can leave.”
[Sally laughs]
Harry: Yeah, nothing from her not even a smile. So I down shift into small talk, and I asked her where she went to school and she said. “Michigan State”, and this reminds me of Helen. All of a sudden I’m in the middle of this mess of an anxiety attack, my heart is beating like a wild man and I start sweating like a pig.
Sally: Helen went to Michigan State?
Harry: No she went to Northwestern, but they’re both Big-Ten schools. I got so upset I had to leave the restaurant.

A version of this has been happening to me all day every day. I was at work rinsing out a mug when I noted that the song, Wagon Wheel was playing. Right as I began to happily sway to this dreamy of all tunes, this trainwreck of a thought happened:

This song is by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I saw them in concert.

The day I saw them in concert DC and I were texting.

He wouldn’t stop calling me ambrosial.

At the time I thought his over-usage of the word ambrosial was nauseating.

I would give anything to be called ambrosial again. Okay not really—still hate the word—but I wish he still thought I was ambrosial enough to tell me so.

And then I wanted to puke in the freshly rinsed mug, my heart was hurting so bad. How did my brain do that from a song that has virtually nothing to do with DC? Because everything has everything to do with DC right now. It’s just the way love and heartbreak work unfortunately.

It happened again another day while buying strawberries. I picked up the package and then was lost in remembering strawberry-picking with him in the mountains.

I had walked up to a neighboring fence with a white horse and bragged to DC that horses just trusted me, as sure enough the horse ambled over to me and let me touch his striking jaw and feed him some grass. We made our way through row after row of strawberries plucking and sweating while I paused to take photos of him. I loved photographing him.

And still yet while thrifting with my best friend I spotted some Yankee Candle melts and touched them as anguish washed over me in deep floods. I shook the Yankee candle at her saying even this stupid candle was dragging me down into an abyss. She asked how?

When DC and I first started dating, we went to this quaint German town in Michigan called Frankenmuth. We walked around the town holding hands while it rained. He bought my mom a bunch of Yankee Candle melts because it was near Christmas. He carved our initials in the side of a bridge. I looked at his wool pea coat that was dappled with raindrops and thought, ah love, how perfect.

And now… ? Now Yankee candles were giving me gut rot.

I just kept thinking about that line where Sally curiously asks if Helen went to Michigan State and Harry matter of factly states no, Northwestern, but it’s a Big-Ten school (I even know what Big-Ten schools are now thanks to DC) making connections that only heartbroken people can make. I could connect an earthworm to a sports stat at this point, that’s how badly my heart wants to find its way back to his heart.

I have seen When Harry Met Sally 1,000 times and that line never affected me much me til now. And now I can so easily see how it didn’t matter at all that Helen hadn’t gone to Michigan State; Helen hadn’t yet left Harry’s heart, so still he could make the connection.

So while I may suffer daily with these inane and improbable connections myself, I know it’s just my hearts way of making sense out of something utterly nonsensical. My heart doesn’t understand what my brain does. I wish that were so, but my heart has always marched to its own drummer, brain and rationale be damned.

So I’ll leave my poor heart alone and let her do her thing. I’ve always trusted my heart too much to start in on her now. If this is what she needs to cope, then I guess I’ll accept that certain things—or everything—bring me back to DC in some way. But as a wise friend of mine once said: feeling sheer and utter sadness over something reminds us we’re alive. And if my heart is still carrying on this much at least the ol’ girl’s still beating. At least there’s that.

Maybe the Country Songs are Right

Well, folks, it’s been just shy of one month since I left the East Coast and my love, DC and headed for colder weather. It’s not often people pack up to experience 50 degree temps on the first day of summer, but I haven’t minded it much. It feels like fall, and I pretend that it is, as a new season might mean I have moved past my heartbreak and am okay. It’s working a little.

I’ll refrain from crooning corny country songs, here, like it’s getting better all the time, or something about my achy breaky heart and instead say that I am finding the beauty in the struggle once again. If anyone knew anything about DC it’s that the man did indeed spoil me and made my life, well, cushier than I’d ever experienced before in my twenty-eight years. But now, it’s back to relying on good ol’ numero uno and that’s not so bad. It’s not so bad at all.

Like for instance I have been riding my bike a lot. Mostly because it’s pink and pretty, has a basket and it’s my new favorite pastime; but also because it saves on gas. There is something to be said about the wind whipping at my sides while I pump my legs getting in mile after mile on my own energy. It’s really rather therapeutic. Well that and my small supply of Xanax, which I almost lost on one said bike ride. I had some in a little zip-loc in my purse—ya know, for emergencies—and as I was making a sharp turn, my purse flopped open and the wind took the Xanax filled bag and carried it down the street. Immediately I turned and raced after it, feeling frantic—I’d already lost my heart, it was no good to lose my mind too. Eventually I caught up to the bag and ran over it with my wheel to stop its escaping. Close call. Oh Xanax, what would I do without you?

I have also been cooking a lot. To be fair I haven’t been experimenting as much as I had hoped (with new recipes and such) mostly because I’m poor, but I have rationed my four extra jumbo sweet potatoes I bought when I first moved here and have been making a slew of meals with those. I learned from my sis, who learned from a German she flirts with, who learned from Gordon Ramsay that I have apparently been making scrambled eggs wrong my entire life. So this morning I googled the aforementioned Gordon Ramsay scrambled egg tutorial and found by golly, I have been doing it wrong my whole life.

I have also learned the trick for not setting off the smoke alarm in my new apartment. It goes off if I so much as boil water for tea—and by tea I of course mean coffee in my French press. As I happily watched Gordon Ramsay instruct on of the most basic meals of mankind, I had a small fan churning out air pointed upwards at the smoke detector. Then I happily ate the last of my sweet potato stash which I cut up in mini pieces for a hash, accompanied by my new take on the scrambled egg.

And then I did start crooning corny country songs. All day I kept singing to myself, and it’s a great day to be alive, by Travis Tritt. I couldn’t help myself. It did feel great to be alive. Pain and all. Pain I was ignoring. Pain I was embracing. Pain I was masking. Pain I was avoiding. It didn’t matter. I learned how to make scrambled eggs the right way. I learned how not to set off the smoke alarm while frying those eggs. I learned that riding my pink bicycle might be one of the purest ways for me to feel joy. I learned that while yes, a man taking caring of me feels mighty fine, taking care of myself feels even better. And yes, Brooks and Dunn, I have learned that it is getting better all the time.

High Time to Get to Sea

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“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
-Moby Dick

I always knew I loved the first few sentences of Moby Dick, but I had never gotten much past that for some reason or other. With my love of the sea tis shocking  that I have not yet read this book. I found it at a thrift shop the other day and paused to read past, “Call me Ishmael.” The paragraph as quoted above not only grounded me with its stunning poetic verse, but it felt quite similar to a situation I find myself in as of late, feeling a bit grim about the mouth, wanting to knock people’s hats off and most definitely jonesing the sea. Or in my case open waters. Superior.

Here I am.

Sometimes, words fail me. Hence why I borrowed Herman Melville’s for this post, because he said it better than I ever could. And also, I thought I would let some photos I have snapped since re-locating back to the great North do the talking for me. So I feel ya, Ishmael, sometimes the only thing to do is get to the water.

 

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I Can’t Find the Funny

I wrapped my arms around DC hugging—no clutching—him goodbye a little over a week ago. It feels like an eternity has passed and yet time has gone so slow it’s agonizing in every way. I have never despised time so very much.

I also despise everything else. But only in increments. Horrible increments of hatred for messes that seem uncleanable or a life that feels unfixable, and everything in between. The view in front of me seems void of all color and everything around me feels loud and frustrating.

My sisters friend was over the other day when I was in one of these moods, (which don’t last more than a few minutes or a few hours—13 at most) these awful soul-sucking moods, and the saccharine sweetness of her voice felt like nails on a chalkboard. Her inane chatter which of course was conducive to life, felt to me conducive to death. I wanted it to stop, to go away. I couldn’t believe anyone could possibly be talking about normal things when I was in the throes of break-up anarchy, which was swiftly taking me down to a very bleak place.

How were people talking about camping and jobs and houses and life when every molecule in my body reflected what my heart was feeling, which was debilitating pain and mind-altering sadness?

I ran into an old friend in my favorite coffee shop in town and she asked if I was here to stay. I said yes. She asked if that meant my boyfriend and I were still together. I said, no. She said, oh okay.

No period.
Oh okay period.

That is what my relationship had been reduced to and to say it felt all wrong would be all wrong. There aren’t words to sum up how that made me feel. No period. Oh okay period.

Just like that, no. Oh okay.

No.
It’s not okay.
It’s not okay.
It’s not okay.

I have refused for days to write about my break-up (of course I have to write, I have to write through the pain and write myself back to happy) because it felt too raw, it felt like I wanted no one inside my hurt. I wanted to hold it tight and fast within myself, for to let it out would be my demise. It would mean accepting. And though I initiated this split, at the time thinking it wouldn’t really happen, that we would realize and fight harder than ever for our love, now I couldn’t remember at all what I was thinking or why I thought this horrible thing was a good idea. It was the worst idea, I’d ever had. For now, all I could remember was the love. All the love and how good it felt. And why did it seem as though the love had tripled in force which in turn tripled my agony at its sudden absence.

And for days I tried to make my break-up funny for I didn’t recognize all the sadness and rage staging a hostile revolution in my body. I wept with it. Where is this all coming from? This isn’t who I am. I am happy. I am full of optimism and cheer and wit. Where is my wit? Where did she run off to? I can make the worst of the worst funny, but somehow I couldn’t find even one fiber of funny in this situation. I couldn’t find it and I found this to be one of the worst offenses of all.

How deplorably sad was I that I couldn’t Mindy Kaling it up and make my break-up relatable and silly? Nora Ephron made break-ups snappy in my favorite film of all time When Harry Met Sally.

Harry: Right. So I go to the door, and there were moving men there. Now I start to get suspicious. I say, “Helen when did you call these movers?”, and she doesn’t say anything. So I asked the movers, “When did this woman book you for this gig?”. And they’re just standing there. Three huge guys, one of them was wearing a T-shirt that says, “Don’t fuck with Mr. Zero.” So I said, “Helen, when did you make this arrangement?”. She says, “A week ago.” I said, “You’ve known for a week and you didn’t tell me?”. And she says, “I didn’t want to ruin your birthday.”
Jess: You’re saying Mr. Zero knew you were getting a divorce a week before you did?
Harry: Mr. Zero knew.

It’s still sad of course, but Billy Crystal doing the wave while relaying his divorce to his best friend at a football game softens the blow somehow. Why couldn’t I soften the blow? Where the fuck was the funny hiding and why the fuck couldn’t I find it?

As I screeched and sobbed that it wasn’t funny, my sisters wisely pointed out to me that if Mindy Kaling and Nora Ephron made break-ups and divorce somehow comical, they did it when they had time away from the situation. They guaranteed me that in the throes of painful heartache, surely my writing idols didn’t make break-ups funny and neither should I. At least right now. I have my fingers crossed that soon, sometime soon I could turn a witty phrase about my withering heart, but alas right now, I do mostly want to howl like a wounded animal and erase myself.

I want a giant eraser to start at the bottom—my feet, scribbling them out, working my way up to my legs, erase, erase, then my midsection, around to my arms, my chest, erasing particularly vigorously when I got to my heart—erase that shit and then my mind, erase it all, the memories, the love, myself, so I could no longer feel it.

That’s what I want to do.

But because I am a human I have to feel it all. I can’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind myself, I can’t give myself a lobotomy and I most certainly can’t erase myself. For as much as I want all those things in this moment, it’s simply because the hurt is doing all the ruling. It’s manning the systems from the inside and the system is short-circuiting from how shockingly bad my heart can make the rest of me feel.

But here’s the up-side. There is one and despite my sadness, agony, rage and hatred for colors and noise I do know there is an upside. Once the hurt heals as hurt often does, I would probably regret wanting to erase any of my love for DC, erase my existence or my large heart that does still very much believe in love and goodness and cheer and possibility.

So no. It’s not okay. I am not okay. And my break-up isn’t funny. It’s fucking sad as sad ever was. But it won’t be like this for long. No, it sure won’t be like this for long.

What the Au Train Taught Me

Friday was my sister Alexa’s 20th Birthday. As much as I love and rejoice in my birthday is exactly as much as Alexa dislikes and avoids her own birthday fanfare. It’s completely puzzling to me as it’s a birthday—your one day in 365 that celebrates your entrance into this fine world. So color me perplexed as to people who don’t bask in this gift. 

While my birthday this year was surely magical and full of fanfare in its own right, like fireworks going off in the distance right around 10:30 p.m.—which is the time I was actually born, well 10:13-ish specifically—it was as if the very universe was reveling with me in turning another year older, celebrating my existence and impact on this world. How else could I explain fireworks going off in my line of vision on my birthday? Coincidence?

There are no coincidences.

As usual, I digress, this is about Alexa’s birthday, but more specifically, what happened on her birthday which might have affected me most of all—a surprise three hour canoe trip down the Au Train River in Northern Michigan’s pristine forests. It would be my sisters Savannah and Alexa in one canoe, and my sister Kirstie and I in the other canoe.

Kirst and I had a bit of a rough start as she was in the back, doing the steering and right from the get-go we were zigging and zagging to and fro in no way going straight or steady as we kept hitting the river bank. My anxiety promptly startled to prickle as I tried yelling directives back to Kirstie about where to put her paddle and when, but still our boat drunkenly lunged this way and that in a haphazard fashion. After running over a log in the river and nearly capsizing while mosquitoes buzzed rapid fire near my head, I lost all patience with Kirst who was giggling in the back while I screeched like a deranged captain. We made our way to a shallow river bank so we could switch positions: Kirstie bow, myself manning the stern.

Immediately we were on course, as I navigated from the back, calling out orders for when Kirst could lift her paddle out of the water and let me steer us or when we could power the canoe together. My anxiety frissons started to melt away as I took in the surrounding landscape while paddling. Sandy ridges dipped down into the clear water. After initially passing a few cottages on the river we were immersed in what seemed to be deep forest. I scrutinized the tree line trying to spot a bear or more specifically a moose. Deep lines of trees, pines and otherwise lined both river banks, immersing us in their powerful scents. After the switch a group of kayakers had overtaken us and we were now right on their tails, so we decided to pull off to the river bank and enjoy one of our celebratory brews that we put in a cooler.

We linked our legs over the sides of the canoes to hold tight to both canoes, having paddled our way over to an area of mostly fallen down and floating logs. We bobbed on the placid river smiling and sipping. My post break-up sadness that had been nearly taking me down for days was far from my mind as I stared at each one of my radiant and incredibly different sisters in the canoes. Kirst had her platinum blonde hair in pin-up girl curls, wearing her “fancy” sandals, mini overalls and a white tank-top, while Alexa wore a pink polka dot skirt and Savannah had on leggings and a long black floral shirt. Every one of us had sunglasses donned.

After a few minutes of sipping and sitting we decided to press on, letting go of the other canoe. I was already seated but Kirst had shifted to the middle of the canoe and stood up to make her way back to the front. As she started walking, I realized she absolutely didn’t have her sea legs yet as she marched down the middle of the canoe as if she were on dry land, with no sense of balance or idea that we were floating precariously in a small vessel. As I felt the boat begin to lurch I opened my mouth to yell for her to balance herself and before I could form a single word I was flying overboard and sinking into dark cool river water.

As I burst back up to the surface still too shocked that I was no longer dry in a canoe, but drenched in the Au Train, I grasped the side of the canoe realizing I still had my beer in hand. I felt frantic, but when I saw that the canoe was indeed still upright and all our possessions including my car keys weren’t lost at the bottom of the river but were still intact in the boat, my mind eased for a moment until I looked at my surroundings. The river had been rather shallow but where I was at currently, I could not feel the bottom, but was kicking my legs to stay afloat in dark brown water and could see lots of algae covered logs nearby. Instantly I started to flail and flip out, for as adventuresome as I may be, murky water that may or may not be filled with leeches and God knows what had my body convulsing in fear. Savannah and Alexa who I hadn’t spotted yet were around the bend a little ways and were laughing and yelling for me to swim to them where it was sandy.

Kirstie who was as dry as chapped lips was looking at me as if I’d inconvenienced her and like she couldn’t understand why I was in the water. I gave her a murderous glower as I dropped the can of beer into the bottom of the canoe which now had a thin later of water floating on the bottom and quickly kicked my legs and pumped my arms across the river to where my other sisters were. I stood up on the sandy shore and once I knew I was safe and my sisters were done snapping photos of me, I began to laugh.

Okay. I was safe. No leeches had gotten me. I hadn’t been sucked under by a mysterious undertow. And best of all no seaweed had touched or even been close to touching me as that would’ve been the worst case scenario when unexpectedly flying out of a canoe.

Savannah and Alexa went ahead while I realized my paddle was caught in a floating bunch of logs that Kirstie was wildly unsuccessful at obtaining, so I mustered up my courage and swam back up river to fetch it, then back down to the sandy bank to wait for Kirst to pick me up in the canoe. We made it around the bend to see a snarl of trees blocking a lot of the river and heard Savannah and Alexa making quite a ruckus on the other side.

It seemed that Savannah had tipped in as well, trying to make it across the tangle of tree branches and shallow bottom. Kirst and I decided it wasn’t worth trying to paddle through ourselves, so we got out to pull our canoe through the mess as it was only ankle deep. Once we had transferred almost all our sopping things from one canoe to the other in order to dump out the excess water in both canoes, we were back on our way.

At this point I realized my favorite pair of large round D&G sunglasses that DC had bought for me had been on my head when I went overboard. Instantly I was sick over the loss. Losing a pair of sunglasses would mean not all that much to me normally, losing a favorite pair would probably rattle me, but because they were from DC it felt symbolically sad that the sunglasses were now at the bottom of a deep and murky part of the Au Train. I tried not to let it bother me as we paddled on, but my heart hurt for awhile feeling the loss as more than just fashionable plastic shades for my eyes, it felt like over-ness, real over-ness and I hated it. Oh how I wanted those glasses back, if only to hold onto something that could no longer be held, which in essence was DC.

The river swept this way and that and the beauty kept striking me despite my melancholy. When we came around another bend I spotted a rope swing with knots hanging high from a tall and skinny pine. My heart leapt away from the sadness of the sunken sunglasses and landed on the rope. I had always, always wanted to swing off of a rope into water and had yet to do it. I felt a little tug of nerves again as the river in this part obviously was dark and deep for there to be a swing into it and I wasn’t sure if I could find the bravery on my own to hurl into the river again. Doing it once without my knowing was one thing, but on purpose? I felt like quite the chicken.

But when the birthday girl, Alexa Belle saw the swing she yelled to Savannah to pull the canoe over so she could jump. Her confidence impressed me. We all pulled the canoes to the bank near the rope swing and Alexa climbed out, climbed up and swung out into the river in a brilliant splash. She just did it.

She did it once more for good measure. This prompted Savannah to try. Savannah went twice as well and then my courage found me.

I stepped out into the water, scrambled up the steep and rocky bank where the rope hung and grasped it. It suddenly seemed so far down and so daunting. I hung out for awhile trying to do countdowns and then go and not being able to. But finally I hurtled myself forward and let go.

I went again and this time, climbed higher and sat on one of the knots of the rope which was even more exhilarating when dropping into the brisk and refreshing river.

Kirstie didn’t want to get wet, though we tried to convince her it’d be worth it. She shook her bouncy blonde curls, no. Savvy, Alexa and I clambered back into the canoes and were off once again, another unpredicted adventure under our belts. Having let go whilst hanging from the rope swing, I decided to let go of the sunglasses too. I had no need to hold onto that anchor of sadness on this glorious river that was teaching me to be fearless and what rewards my soul reaped from my small brave acts.

I thought falling in the river and surviving a would-be leech or seaweed attack, letting go of the D&G’s which also felt like letting go of DC and flying into the air off a rope swing were ample lessons from the Au Train that day, but still the river would teach me more.

After paddling for over two hours, Kirstie and I had hit our stride and now were navigating each fallen tree branch, narrow bend in the river and rock outcropping with Lewis and Clark-like expertise, until we came upon an enormous pine tree the size of a two-story house that was lying down in the river straight ahead. The pine looked as if it had simply given up and snapped right off the side of the cliff it was living on and fell dramatically across the river, like a tired woman on a fainting chair. Its long branches snarled this way and that with mounds of green needles still stuck on.

Savvy and Alexa were ahead and canoed up to where the trunk still stuck to the edge of the tall river bank. I supposed we could just canoe right under the trunk but the girls looked back at us shaking their heads. When we came closer, I too saw that going under the trunk would not happen as there were numerous scratchy branches in every direction blocking any entrance to the other side of the river. Kirst and I backed our canoe up while Savvy and Alexa untangled themselves from some of the pine branches as they had gotten too close and Alexa had been ensnared while their canoe rocked from the jolt.

“How are we going to get around this?” I asked Kirst, not feeling frightened so much as stumped that the river was still surprising me with its obstacles.

The other side looked just as hopeless with tree branches reaching wide into shallow seaweed filled water. The seaweed alone gave me pause. I could not fall in again there. Seaweed was definitely my achilles heel. But there seemed no other way. This route, though it looked too shallow and narrow had less branches. Kirst and I slowly paddled around the fallen pine and through the thick green seaweed.

Coming out on the other side, it seemed so simple. Oh, that was all it took? It seemed another glaringly obvious metaphor for life. When there is a tree 100 times the size of me laying languidly across the river I am on, blocking what seems to be the only way to the end, what is there to be done? Stop and set up camp on the river bank admitting defeat? Turn and go back two hours upstream? Of course not. Find another way. Get around it somehow and keep going.

Huh? Interesting. Very, very interesting. I hear ya God and I am listening.

The Au Train though hardly a rapids, or even what I would deem a level 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, still was not effortless. It required much attention, navigation and fluidity from all of us. There were still times we had to push our paddles down hard into the water to slow down our speed so we wouldn’t careen into a fallen log, times when we had to tread slowly and surely through passages full of branches and rocks and more times still that the river split and we simply had to go with our intuition on which split felt like the right one to lead us home.

And through all of this my mind awakened with not only the healing powers of nature, but what a river could stand to teach me about being fearless in the face of adversity, not just in the present moments but in what surely might be troubling times ahead.

I cannot know how many downed tree branches are ahead in my river—my story. I can’t know if they are enormous—seemingly blocking my entire path. Or if they are easily bypassed. Or how much stamina I may need to get around them. Or if I will get wet or lose things, even a part of myself in the process. But I do know that God created rivers so that only so much is visible at any one time. If I knew everything that lay ahead for me on the Au Train, I may not have even gotten in the canoe, but because I saw each winding bend—obstacles and all—a moment at a time, everything felt manageable.

And I get it. I get it all. I fell in the water and I didn’t drown. I lost something and that something really was someone that wasn’t just important to me, but was a part of me, still I press on. I flew and I didn’t get hurt. I saw no way around. But yet…

Three hours from where we started we pulled our canoes out of the Au Train where my car was parked, which was really only a few miles away. We had a package of soaked cookies, cans of beer that were mostly filled with river water, were missing two pairs of sunglasses that now rested at various sandy bottoms of the Au Train, we smelled like Off bug spray and sun-tan lotion and river and we were all still mostly wet with patches of dry (aside from Kirstie).

And just like that we made it to the other side.