Gently the rain falls. The ground has absorbed what it can and now the trail becomes a small creek. As I jog across the bridge, I notice the river has swollen in the downpour. Rocks that normally poke up above the water are covered. After a long drought, the rain feels surreal. I take in the smell of the wet dirt, the electric green of the plants, and the new flowers covered in big droplets. Running in the rain is a rare occurrence in the arid U.S. Southwest and a reason at times to get out the door when normally one would hunker down and drink another cup of coffee.
The rain feeds the river. The rivers feed us.
Swirling into an eddy and slipping out again, the silvery ribbon of water sparkles in the overcast light. The sound of the river itself numbs out any other sensation—aside from the freezing cold of the water itself. Spring runoff means that even just dipping your feet in is enough to take your breath away. In the winter, the river slowly closes up as temperatures get colder. Then, as the days begin to grow longer and temperatures warm ever so slightly, pockets open up along the water hinting at the flow that has been hidden under the snow. Now, as the end of spring comes, the river is alive with fresh snowmelt and fresh rain.
As I sat on the bank dipping my toes into the frigid water attempting to ice a sore and injured foot, I thought of how lovely it would be if only we could run as unhindered and wild as this river. Imagine winding your way through the mountains, cascading off into magnificent falls, and carving, over hundreds of thousands of years, deep canyons through which entirely new ecosystems grow. At first my mind is engulfed by the thought of flowing—a form of freedom I can only imagine. But even rivers themselves aren’t all free—dams, agriculture, big cities, mines, roadways, you, and me—we all depend on them, we all take from them and confine them to our needs, forgetting they were here long before us. But occasionally, and fortunately, our appreciation for rivers goes beyond their use as a resource. Sometimes we’re just lucky enough to run alongside them and hear their melodic sounds.
Athletes and creatives often describe their rhythm as a state of flow, much like a river. We all yearn for the days when our bodies don’t ache and our minds aren’t preoccupied beyond our footsteps. True flow comes on days when you work with gravity, not against it. And if we think of endurance, rivers outstrip us of our humble human definitions. Like birds that migrate across continents, we can only dream of the stories that come from flowing through such vast distances and landscapes.
After wandering thousands of miles in the desert, it’s pretty easy to see that flowing water is magical. When you stumble upon it deep in a canyon, it is quite astonishing the life that comes from it. Whether it’s the verdant forks of the Gila River in western New Mexico that are teeming with bears and frogs and flowers, or the Colorado River making the Grand Canyon seem far less thirsty, or the San Juan River, into which everything in the Four Corners of the U.S. flows, or some unknown creek that perennially breathes life into an otherwise sandy corner—it is without question that our rivers deserve ceaseless admiration.
Emulating the landscape is difficult but I think we can pull from natural elements—like the sun and the wind and the water—as examples of how to move through the land with ease. I also believe that so many of us love spending long days outside because we can glean energy, and if nothing else contentment, from such humbling and important forces of nature. In turn, I think this gives a greater appreciation for where we run, beyond how many miles our legs have logged.
“Often someone will ask how I got to the river. I usually smile because they never ask the important question: How did the river get to me?” — Katie Lee, All My Rivers Are Gone
Call for Comments
- Can you share a few thoughts about your home river and the land surrounding it?
- Do you seek a flow state with your outdoor activities that is like how water naturally flows?