I leave tomorrow for a week. No phones. No computers. Writing the good way. Writing with smooth ink and a hand. Writing next to moving water, in the fog, in the sunlight, beneath trees with my toes in the dirt.  Writing in the red.

In bed this morning, I was instead sitting with my family around a fire. My brother, my stepdad, my mother. I can’t even remember the last time we all got to do this – be in the wild with each other for a week.

As kids, we would camp every spring break. The Anza Borrego desert, Joshua Tree, Death Valley. We liked the desert – the hidden life there, the stars so numerous it looked like twilight. My brother playing the guitar next to the fire, a song he made from his fingers and I breathed it, him, life in at 15 years old. The song he called “Traveling Minstrel.”

I sat on bulb rocks above the camp and the people and I wrote in the sky, in the sun like a lizard. I wrote about uncertainty, about breaking up with¬† a then boyfriend, about sliding in between rocks – the sandpaper boulders. I wrote about freedom and the free I would feel going to college, making my own decisions. I still know this girl on the rock. I still see myself there looking out over the desert. I still see all the beauty in it. That I hope never changes. That I know is the core, the voice that identifies me inside and I’m learning to reject the voices that bring doubt and fear and terror. I’m learning to listen, soak in what’s useful and purge them out.

I’m ready to work the river. I’m ready for the river to work me. This is basic life and perhaps why I love camping so much. You have to work to make things happen at such a basic level. Every morning we’ll wake up, break camp and push off along the waters. We’ll watch the light rise and the light fall. We’ll make our food on a small gas grill. All the things we take in, we take out. But there’s one thing I hope to leave there, on a bank, perhaps I’ll know the spot when I see it – but there’s a skin I want to shed, like a skin I shed not too many months ago, I’m ready to do it again. It can’t and doesn’t fit anymore – a skin that was never able to fight for me, but curled into corners and said everything was always OK. I’m going to leave it hanging on a tree or cast it downstream or leave it at camp and never look back,knowing something wild will come and take it away.

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4 Responses to Westwater

  1. Dear Rachel
    I wonder how you’re going, you, the Earth, the River and your family… thinking of you as you shed your skin. I am doing something similar here; shedding then digging mine into the soil with a song and a prayer, a rant and a sigh of relief and gratitude. I hope your time away has brought you many blessings. Love, Claire

    • rachvb says:

      Dear Claire,
      I’m on my way home from the river and I’m not quite sure I’m ready to get back into my life. My tan lines seem to be the only things making my trip real. It feels like a dream. I’m not sure I’ve shed my skin. Time will tell. But I feel grateful for the rocks and the river and the air. It was a stunning trip. We had to work for every day. Nothing else mattered but getting down the river. I hope you too had a beautiful trip to the water.

  2. Hi Rachel – I love this ‘nothing else mattered but getting down the river.’ Isn’t this true of the rest of life? I’m happy to know your time away has been one of gratitude and the best kind of work. I don’t think I can recall a single conversation with water that has not had a note of beauty and truth about it… Take your time finding your way back into things at home… they’re part of the same dance (the river and the ‘ordinary’ every day world). L, C x

    • rachvb says:

      Thank you, Claire.
      I’m finding it hard to be back emotionally, dreading the thought of office work today when I’ve been working for the past week with the sun and my muscles and watching the flow of the river – it’s so clear sometimes where to go through it and others not. But it’s a good base to remember, a good calm I can look back on and try to bring forward.
      All I really want to keep is the feeling of being there here. Maybe that’s why we go away sometimes – to gather up clarity and bring is home in our pockets?

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