Advice from the River


To celebrate Autumn’s arrival I intentionally joined a canoeing/camping excursion offered by Washington Women Outdoors (a local outdoor adventure group for women). On the last morning of summer I awoke on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River (the largest river on the East coast) outside of Harrisburg, PA; with a part Huck Finn, part Peter Pan and the lost boys kind of feeling. After six hours of meandering down this waterway we began searching for our evening real estate. Like Goldlocks tasting her porridge, the first island we came to was too small, the second one was already occupied and the third one was just right. Plenty of room for seven spacious camp sights. Canoes were beached, tents were pitched, campfire was built and the traditional WWO happy hour began. Each of us slowly made our way to our sleeping bags on full bellies, sun warmed skin from our day on the river and muscles pleasantly tired after a day full of physical effort. Sleep came easy. Dawn sun rays poked me awake through my tent screen along with the morning chorus of crickets, tree frogs & the haunting call of a train whistle. A soft river scented breeze began to seep into my bones. My six two legged companions were beginning to stir as well. As poet Wendall Berry says, I was returning to ‘the peace of wild things’.

Leaving my world behind, whether to take a short hike solo or with other women, often can calm my frazzled nervous system like no other medium. As Robert Greenway notes in his contribution to Ecotherapy, Healing With Nature in Mind, many things begin to happen when one enters the wilderness or brings ‘the wilderness mind’ to an outdoor excursion. Physically, the body begins to awaken when tasked with being responsible for whatever might be need during our weekend and while meeting the navigational demands of an unknown waterway with lots of rocks, class 1 or 2 rapids and shallow water. Traveling in a group helps us remember our tribal nature. ‘Exercises of mutual caring and of developing trust in the sharing of camp duties, cooking and eating food together all arouse this tribal consciousness.’ - 1 Sitting around a crackling fire naturally connects us with our ancestors, a sense of gratitude for it’s warmth and light along with a sense of “We’ve been here before’. Finally, rivers are a natural place of balance that we can align with when the senses are opened to her gifts.

One of my favorite shows of the 1990’s was called Northern Exposure. In this comedy-drama series, Native American wisdom and seasonal rituals were often featured. One of the most beloved characters was ‘Chris in the morning’, part time radio DJ, philosopher & artist. In one episode a variety of random personal items were going missing ie hair dryers, blenders, etc. Finally, Chris was caught in the act or stealing a car radio and confessed without any resistance stating, ‘sometimes you just have to do something bad to know you’re alive. My take on this is sometimes you just have to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone & provides an appropriate challenge (within ones’s skill set) to remember the feeling of being alive.

Maybe going camping or spending time on a river is not your thing, however, a nature prescription is available to everyone of us. Whether just stepping into one’s own back yard for a few minutes in the morning, sitting next to a plant on a windowsill or visiting a favorite park for a long walk these simple choices can reconnect us to the more than human world and most importantly to ourselves. The best part, it’s free. Spend some time this autumn remembering this important relationship and enjoy Ilan Shamir’s:

Advice from a River

Go with the flow-~immerse yourself in nature

Slow down and meander~Go around the obstacles

Be thoughtful of those downstream~stay current

The beauty is in the journey!

1 edited by Buzzell, Linda and Chalquist, Craig, Ecotherapy, Healing With nature in Mind,2009, Sierra Club Books