Rolling Down the Deschutes River

Bend, Oregon ~ Day Two

My earliest memories of river songs are singing Row Row Row Your Boat, and Michael Row The Boat Ashore (Hallelujah!), but now that list has grown exponentially. Rivers call out for a song, their various facets and qualities changing and amorphous – the meandering or rollicking currents, the broad then narrow passages, rolling reflections and scenery, the power (useful or destructive) beneath the seemingly endless flow.

On our way to the river we often break out into river songs – how many can we dredge up? The Grateful Dead has a bunch of my favorites:

Way down, down the lazy river road. 
I will walk alone down the black muddy river and sing me a song of my own. 
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul. 

Everyone has a river song: Creedence Clearwater (Proud Mary), Johnny Cash (Big River), Dylan (Watching the River Flow). Bruce Springsteen, The Doors, Sinatra, Talking Heads, Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Doobies, Joni Mitchell. If you don’t know at least the refrain of Shenandoah, get on it!

We skate away on the river, we wade in it, we commit crimes there, sink or swim, get baptized and pray, fall in love, and wash ourselves clean. It’s a metaphor for tears, heroin, life, loss, and death. We immortalize beloved rivers: the blue Danube, the Mississippi, the Swanee, the Volga, the Erie Canal, and the banks of the Ohio. Wouldn’t it be a good party game to call out a recording artist and then name the river tune they performed?

I keep going to the river to paddle, swim, walk, look for headwaters, immerse in confluences, watch birds and trees. Later I try to capture my new-to-me river love in words, its rhythm and flow, each river’s unique magical qualities, but it’s hard to get a grip on their essence. I’ve tried just about every water sport at least once in my life, searching for new ways to be in or on the water where I am at my happiest. Oregon’s rivers have it all – romantic Dragon Boats on the Willamette River that slice through glassy water, standup paddlers who push off from shore with elegance, kayaks in fluid motion, long boats with rowers’ mesmerizing powerful strokes. I even rode on one of those commercial dinner cruises for tourists that heads upstream for several miles, drinking wine as the sun set.

Just after launching, still laughing and humming.

On a slow moving stretch of the Deschutes River in July, my friends and I drift downstream in candy apple red kayaks. The scent of water and decaying leaves and mud waft through the air. Ducks and geese and their babies paddle quietly near the shore. Swallows and redwing blackbirds swoop over the surface and back through the trees, while turkey vultures and hawks soar above. My fingers drag along the cool surface breaking up reflections of sky, clouds, and trees that ripple outward. Below, bright green grasses on the river’s bottom surge and then bow toward the grassy shore. Beyond is a backdrop of pines and firs and cottonwoods reaching skyward.

Layers upon layers

I’m fascinated by the glimpse of houses’ back ends along the way, and admire (well, covet) the places where people enjoy their patch of paradise, a contrast to the usual street views of garage doors and front curbs. As I roll by I contemplate the decks and docks, gardens and lawns, yards that speak of lounging and playing, floor to ceiling picture windows that bring a bit of river into the house but reveal to the outsider a mere reflection of sun, clouds, and sky.

The paddle is my metronome, in and out, up and down, beating time, sometimes smooth and silent, often awkward and splashy. I steer closer to shore to investigate, then shove back into the current. The day grows warm, and I chat lazily with these dear old friends from back home, whom I haven’t seen in a few years.

Sing with me ~ Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river

When we were on  the Deschutes last May I paddled upstream like mad to outpace the strong current and wind, feeling like I was going two paddles forward for every one slipping back. The fun, fast-paced return downstream took a third of the time. This time, my brother kindly dropped the four of us off at the same Big River launching spot but then sent us 7 ½ miles downstream through Sun River, and picked us up over two hours later at Harper’s Bridge.

My brother says that the double kayak is the Central Oregon Marriage Compatibility Test, which involves prolonged contact in a tandem kayak. They passed with high marks, no small task after a lifetime together.

In mid-summer neither current nor wind are strong, and our languid trip allowed us to put down the paddle and just watch, float, and talk. At least for the first hour. Then my 66 year old hips tired of the awkward position, bringing my conversational level to a dribble. Aching and shifting clumsily, I wondered if this is yet another activity out of my range. It seems I can’t do anything for long – sit, stand, or walk. I wake up after a hard night of sleep and spend an hour soaking and stretching. I had to be hauled out of the kayak at the end, much to my chagrin, but moving around freely also meant a quick recovery. I’ll forget by the time someone offers me another boat ride.

But as the song says, cry me a river. I’ll keep my eye on the tangerine trees and marmalade sky. In my time, in my time, I will roll roll roll.

In case you go

10 thoughts on “Rolling Down the Deschutes River

  1. Oh, I love this. I love to watch duck families in swift rivers. I swear I’ve even seen babies roll their eyes when they want to keep playing in an eddy and mama is ready to move on. And watching the water swirl around a rock before moving on, slowing down, speeding up, sometimes passing smoothly by a rock and sometimes getting caught in a whirlpool. Metaphors. “My paddle’s keen and bright / Flashing like silver / Swift as the wild goose flight / Dip, dip, and swing.” I grew up in a canoe.

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  2. I think Black Water is my favorite river song.  Although, that said, years ago Alison Krauss did a song called Down to the River to Pray. I’m not really a religious person but that song (and many others of hers) were like spirit itself. This was a lovely read. Makes me long for a day on the water. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful description of a wonderful day! So glad we passed the Marriage Compatibility test; whew…but why didn’t we sing river songs on the way???

    Liked by 1 person

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