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Shooting the rapids for the very first time takes courage

Norma Edythe Heyser is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


I have a boyfriend I have titled, Beloved. Because he isn’t my husband, I have not outgrown the desire to impress him. So I do things for him that I would never do for a husband.

We’re both too old to do the things he used to, but together, with each other’s help, we imagine it’s not over yet — which is why we rafted down the Grande Ronde River in Eastern Oregon.

He’s an old rafter from way back and I’ve never done it. So, when I was included in the family invitation, I just said, “yes.” The feelings I feel from the thoughts I think are like those of riding an airplane wing, so I replace them with visions of myself in the boat with the children and dogs, where safety is a priority.

As luck would have it, we old folks are assigned to a big, tightly compressed whale of a rubber boat, piled full of heavy stuff in big bags and boxes in what looks to me like dangerous random imbalance.

I looked for whatever small crevice I could sit down in to avoid falling out, but I’m told to sit on top of the boat and hang on to a little strap that holds it all down. Everybody else was cool with that — so I pretend.

Our revered trip guide, who was in charge of the children and dogs, shouted strict instructions to his two first-time pilot mates as we pushed off. “To the left. To the right. Away from the rocks. Head into the waves. Watch me and do what I do!” His voice was more comforting than the impetuous smile on our first-time pilot’s face.

Nicolas’ face hinted a stupendous ride revealing itself as he demonstrated his propensity to veer right when our guide rowed left, then left when the guide rowed right. We headed straight for every large rock on the way, taking waves from the side, wetting us thoroughly. It was an opportunity, I figure, he used to show his father his prowess while goading, teasing and playing with his fate and ours.

“Why am I here?” I ask myself. It was a question I asked frequently for which no other person has ever had an answer. An inner voice told me, “Hang on, let go, observe, listen, flow.”

What I observed on the first stormy day was wet and cold. A little strap, a rope-at-the-bow and my Beloved were lifelines. I know our guide’s rules are wrong for Nicolas. What I don’t know is that I would see him row through a dynamic process of inventing a level of river rafting to which those around us did not aspire. I would observe fanatical curiosity, wild inventiveness, ferocious courage and horrendous creativity. It would make me think, wonder, hope and write. 

The second day was all sun, blue sky, wispy clouds and diamonds where rocks and waves collide. Everybody smiled. Our big rubber boat yields to the quick and subtle moves of our fledgling oarsman. That day, we twirled after each boulder and bounced off a cliff side.

Nicolas entertained, confounds with cryptic comments. He told us a poignant story about a boy, a dog and climbing a castle for approval from a king. I’m rocked almost into afternoon sleep by a quiet eddy — my fingers entwined in the little strap holding onto everything. It was a very good day. I think.

On the third day, I let go of the little strap, content, satisfied, grateful for beauty, weather and nature. I felt safe, almost bored anticipating the next fall. 

Yet again, I listened to my own rules, “Hang on, let go, observe, listen, flow.” In following these rules in awe of fanatical curiousity, wild inventiveness, ferocious courage and horrendous creativity. 



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Lake Oswego

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Humidity: 70%

Wind: 12 mph

  • 21 Oct 2014

    Cloudy 62°F 56°F

  • 22 Oct 2014

    Rain 59°F 53°F