Riverside Reflections

A week or two out from our latest paddling trip, the Nymboida River was barely a trickle. The river that we had chosen, because of its reliability; was being unreliable. Despite its magnificent beauty, near perfect sequencing of beginner rapids and relatively unknown existence, it was also able to be paddled within a one meter variance in height. This made it more likely to host an enjoyable experience, regardless of recent rainfall.

However, choosing to ply your trade, in an ever-evolving arena, always comes with challenges. They say not to work with children or animals because they are unpredictable. The unpredictability of the natural world is what keeps things interesting for us. It is something we love and loathe at the same time. The reality is that It keeps us on our toes, and ensures we too are always adapting and evolving – like it is.

So back to the river. Or should I say, the trickle…We were not too worried. In case this happened, we had a few other options up our sleeves. We could move further downstream along the longest whitewater trail in Australia, to the Clarence River Gorge. Here its spectacular waterfalls and high cut gorges become more friendly and accessible at lower water levels. A beautiful option, accompanied by some logistical challenges, so we kept rain dancing in our minds, with the hope that we would get to host the trip on our preferred section.

A few showers in the lead up, topped up the catchment so the Nymboida looked good for the planned trip to go ahead. However – the Universe had other plans for us! On the eve of our adventure, a few big storms rolled through and the predictions for the next few days lifted in intensity. This soon meant our 6 day trip would probably only take a few hours to complete (but a big effort to survive), so we implemented our high water plan. It turned out to be a lovely move, as we rendezvoused at our good friends and faithful collaborators place; Steve & Sharon Ross’s beautiful pocket of Wilderness – The Clarence River Wilderness Lodge. It was a pleasure to camp in their old orchard, a stones-throw from the fast flowing Clarence River. A series of newly revived and entertaining grade two-three rapids awaited us downstream, rejuvenated by the recent rainfall..

As experienced river runners, the ever evolving nature of our free flowing rivers and their levels is something we are fortunate to interact with daily. While others may prefer the consistency and reliability of a dam release, like the Tully in Northern Queensland; for us the spontaneity of water supply is what makes the experience even more special. The knowledge that the fun to be had today, may not be there tomorrow, is insightful and exciting. The rarity of the experience makes it unique.

To paddle a river that is free to flow its natural course, free to evolve with the seasons and the changing weather patterns, is to get to know it in all of its phases of existence. To see its power in flood and its vulnerability during drought-like conditions, is to know it inside and out. Even a change of five centimetres causes subtle adaptations to the rapids. That rock might become a new speed hump-like hazard, that wave newly surfable; that eddy may disappear completely. The rivers continuous evolution keeps it refreshing and rewarding.

As I interact with nature more and more everyday, I see reflected in it, the ever-changing nature of myself. Just as storms roll across the sky and floods over-run river banks and wash debris downstream, I too have days where the emotions take over and change my internal and external landscape. Where noises and electric energy slice through the air, and tension is built up and then released explosively. Where energy flows powerfully, bursting my banks and eroding through previously dry beds. I too am unpredictable! Fortunately through time spent observing nature, I am learning to find the beauty in my constant evolution.

Just as rivers rise and flood low lying plains, they too dry up to a mere trickle. Similarly, I have days where everything flows, and others where not much happens at all. Although they are not equally productive, each experience brings just as much learning as the other.

To have persistence is just as important as to have patience. To have momentum is as valuable as moments of stillness and purity. Without the rain fall, we cannot paddle, yet without the dry spells, we do not appreciate the rain as much. This dichotomy of existence, keeps us in check.. Like night and day, summer and winter, the opposition is defiant but necessary.

On the river, the high intensity and energy of the rapids are often followed up with calm, flat pools. These are just as important on our journey as the rapids. They give you time to slow your breath, find your rhythm, perhaps even stop thinking long enough to spot a Rainbow Bee-eater flitting in and out of the trees, or a platypus peeping near the surface. It is these quiet moments that balance out the adrenalin-pumping experience the rapids may promote. Just like life, our journey is not just about the fast paced, but also about the slow, as it is important to experience a whole range of states of existence and the emotions that accompany these. I have learnt as much about myself in the stress of the rapids as I have the silent monotony of the flatter sections. The way the mind wanders when free, provides great insights, that I often miss when it is focused intently on an outcome.

Although I too have been as solid as the rock that the canoes bounce off, and as flexed as the trees that arch across the river in one of our favourite rapids “the Tunnel of Love”. I have flowed freely like the stream, and cycled repetitively like an eddy. I have rushed between rocks and then trickled over pebbles, sometimes I have stopped, stagnantly in one spot. Around each corner, the river continues to provide such a great reflection of myself. How I ebb and flow, change and adapt, on my course through life.

I love how river journeys provide me with a great opportunity to reconnect and rejuvenate my mind, body and soul. By stripping back to simplistic living, self-powered transport, with minimal belongings. Like a moth, I am drawn into the fire-light under the stars. By filling my body with nutrient rich, wholesome food, that I have worked hard to earn, I am easily satisfied. It is a luscious existence, well worth the energy exchanged for the expansive wilderness encountered.

So whether you are a “do-er” chasing something new to “do”, or a “be-er” searching for a fresh place to just “be”. We have an opportunity for both, somewhere downstream of here… providing it rains a little first. Come Journey Outdoors In Nature with us!

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