Monday, November 16, 2009

pining for the river

Pictures courtesy of my friend S. Green who did the Pecos this spring.

Painted Canyon on the Pecos River, W. Texas

With Thanksgiving coming up it has got me thinking about being on the water.

Most of my holidays, for about 10 years, were spent on the water.  This was during my river guide days.  Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving.  That was how I marked the passing of the year, from one river trip to the next.  The long winter between Thanksgiving and Easter was sometimes broken up by a private trip with friends and semi-regular day trips on Buffalo Bayou in the city.

Now that I don’t do the river guide thing anymore and my river camping buddies have mostly moved away (and with them the various gear spread out amongst us that made the trips possible), I find myself here, and at loose ends, during the holidays.  

I miss being on the river for days at a time, sleeping out under the stars, anticipating and dealing with the weather, being 24/7 out in nature, pooping in the can.  Well, OK, maybe I don’t miss the pooping in the can bit.  

On the short trips, you usually could get away with not having to deal with the weather but if you were going to be gone more than 3 or 4 days, you could count on a change in the weather.    

One trip with friends, on the Pecos, on our second to last night at Painted Canyon, we got rained on.  We watched the lightning come in from the South until it got pretty gusty and the rain started.  It sort of skirted us, coming and going several times.  We got one crack of lightning pretty close that made us all jump.  Everytime you thought it would quit, it would start up again.  Rained like that for four, five hours or so.  We pitched our tent up against a rock wall because we didn’t want to haul all our gear up on top and I woke up in the middle of the night to find about 2” of water in the tent and rapidly rising.  All the rain was pouring off the rock wall and into our tent.  Experienced guides and campers r us.  I finally had to cut a hole in the lowest corner to give the water an exit.  See, only an experienced guide and camper would know to do that. The other two couples didn’t fare much better and we all had our stuff spread out the next morning to dry while we fixed breakfast and broke camp.  Fortunately, in the desert, it doesn’t take long for stuff to dry.

Now you might think that that would have put us all in a terrible mood, but it didn’t.  Life is so real and immediate out there that when the day dawned clear and bright, when we emerged from a night without real shelter from the elementals, we were elated.  We laughed and sang, we gloried in the day and set out on the water again with a light heart.

tinajas further up the side canyon


  1. I have never seen such a magnificent river! I love these formations.

    Thanks for showing me the Pecos through someone else's eyes because I think I will never see it.

  2. I haven't seen nearly enough of this great country we live in. You have made me want to roam..... Maybe I just want to run away?

  3. I've never done primitive camping, but I've been to plenty of campgrounds. Our vacations when I was growing up were spent in campgrounds - in Nashville, at Myrtle Beach, at Disney World. And Dr. M & I camped our way up to Gettysburg and back early in our marriage. And I've felt that exhileration in the morning from surviving the elements - even the tame ones in a campground. But now that I'm older I'm afraid the discomfort would outweigh the exhileration...

  4. Ah, life outdoors changes constantly. Thanks for sharing your love of the river.

  5. Fabulous post, Ellen.

    Mr. B and I are headed up to our rustic cabin (timeshare) in the northwoods of MN for the holiday weekend. Solar panels for a wee bit of electricity, wood-burning stove, bathing in a Finnish sauna w/wood burning stove, outhouse--no plumbing--pump your own well watee.

    Ir'a on the homestead of the woman from whom I learned to mush.

    I cannot wait to be in the wilderness again, listening to wolves, looking for Northern Lights, and if we're very lucky, playing with dogs in the snow.

    wanna come?

  6. I love the photos. Especially the second one. I think it was Belloc who wrote a beautiful bit of prose about water on rock - how it looks when the water swirls under a stone bridge etc. etc. I always think of it when I see rivers.

  7. ellen i could spend days inside that second photograph. i want to run the palm of my hand along the curves and twists in those formations. it's truly beautiful. steven

  8. Oh those photos! How elegant the rock formations are. Takes lots and lots of water to carve them out so pretty and there you were, hoarding it in your tent. Shame on you Ellen. {wink}

    I do have to give you credit for your gutsy camping. I can't even imagine going that primitive. You're a better woman than I. But it does make me curious... people simply wouldn't do that kind of camping if it were awful. Maybe I should get with it and hitch my tent to a rock wall someday. Just so I can say I did.

  9. Thanksgiving on the river - no better way to give life perspective and give thanks for the joy of living. Miss it and you, too.

  10. Pooping in the can? Now that I wouldn't like.

  11. You are a hearty soul. Had me worried about the poop can for a minute there! I love camping, but not in bad weather.

  12. We camped every Thanksgiving for years. I loved it too. Got me smiling big time.

  13. WOW lady, what a view! I'm always enchanted by your writing, even more by the life you have led. Your lifestyle, your history and your art are quite spellbinding, which is why I started to grin like a fool when told me that Stuff from Ellen's Head was the chosen one.

    Yep, you have been Touched by Pagan Culture! I just finished writing the post (after enjoying your art for 2 hours +) and WOW! WOW! WOW! You are so gifted.

    Your blog will be showcased for an entire day, starting Wednesday (11/18/09) at 12:00am.


  14. Love that story. And what beautiful country.

  15. passed by from Pagan Culture...lovely pics you got here and love your works of art!

  16. When did you do all this rafting? I love that you have done this!


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