a day in the life - on books and the river

Currently I am reading three books simultaneously:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

I pick up one of these books daily, solely dependent on which I am in the mood to read at that moment. Water for Elephants is an exceptionally well-written fictional novel that I crack open when I want to tune out the world and be snagged on a story-line like a trout on a fisherman's hook. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a social psychology book that caught my attention while I was wandering the library, the kind of book that forces me to think deeper on political and religious issues. Carry on, Warrior is an inspiring book written by a favorite blogger of mine, and reading her stories feels like a lovely and lighthearted reminder that life is messy, that I am not alone and that I can do hard things.

As though three books were not enough, last week I saw a post from Cheryl Strayed, the author of one of my all time favorite books, Wild. Her post was recommending a book that her friend had written which was out to bookstores that day. The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, by Caroline Paul. The instant I saw the title, not only that it was coming highly recommended from one of my favorite authors, I was sold. I called our local bookstore and ordered it immediately. This was an easy-going and fun read, a book they say for girls ages 7 and up, but even so I told myself that I wouldn't start reading it until I had finished at least one of my current three books.

That was a lie, of course.

I received a call that my book had arrived on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning I was sitting at the café next door, drinking a chai tea latte while waiting for the bookstore to open. I purchased my book and set it neatly on the passenger seat next to me where its brand new stiff and shiny cover taunted me. I could hardly contain my excitement. So I devised a plan. I would start the book during my lunch break today.

As someone who both devises plans often and craves spontaneous solitude, I like to keep the car packed and ready for just these kinds of times. The hatchback of our crossover is filled with extra coats and gloves and blankets, our hiking backpack or a stroller, our Nalgene pack with some snacks and water. It's all very convenient for the craziness of my life because it cuts out so much time with the packing. Always the packing! Thanks to my prepacked preparedness I am similar to a ninja in my in-and-out skills. I swung by the house quickly, let Rockie out of her kennel, pulled on my fleece lined leggings, put a yogurt parfait in the backpack, stuffed a camp chair in the car and we headed out to "our spot".

I know that it's not our spot. But it's a place that I discovered a long time ago, a place that I have always loved. It is located next to a popular walk and dog park in town. I see other people there occasionally and so I know that it is a hidden place which has been discovered before. But it is dear to my heart. It is convenient in its vicinity close to our home and it feels like a well kept secret.

When we get there I throw the backpack and my camera bag over my shoulder and while carrying my camp chair and a worn Mexican throw blanket, I jump a wooden fence. With Rockie in tow we cross a bridge, turning our backs to the busyness, the throngs of people on the stone pathway and the cars on the highway, to follow a trodden dirt trail through the thickets of the tall trees until we arrive at an opening. The river is flowing softly and low enough that the pebble filled shore makes a perfect perch for my setup. I sit down in my chair and open my yogurt parfait, taking a bite filled with blueberries and crunchy granola, where I pull out my brand new stiff-backed book and open it up.

It is just what I expected: light reading, funny, inspiring. It is filled with witty illustrations and random inserts of gutsy girls in the past who have climbed mountains and fought fires and flown airplanes. In between my reading I stop to take some pictures. I sink down farther into my chair when the sun comes out from behind the clouds and I stare into the sky, letting the rays warm my face, tuning into the sounds surrounding me like the birds chirping from their high perches above and the consistent rushing of the water, the whirring of cars on the highway in the distance somewhere. I watch Rockie chewing on muddy sticks that I occasionally pick up and throw for her to fetch.

As I near time for me to pack up and head back to work, I shut my book and I stare into the rhythm of the crystal river flowing next to me, thinking fondly to last year's kayaking trip that Dan and I took down this very spot. The water was higher then, surging powerfully with the winter runoff. I remember the adrenaline of riding the river, I remember the light rain falling from the sky and the smell of our new life jackets. It was a beautiful and terribly romantic evening that I would like to never forget. And I remember then, how James had picked us up at the bottom of our route to help load the kayaks in his Chevy and shuttle us back to our truck. I am constantly surprised at how many memories of James sneak into my mind every single day, memories of times when I took his being here for granted. I am grateful that these memories come so frequently and that I have them at all, even if it still stings so very badly to think about too long.

I look upward and sigh into the sky. I close my book and stuff my things back into my pack, taking a short walk along the edge of the river with Rockie before grabbing the rest of my things and trekking back to the car, back to the throngs of people and the surge of cars, back to the office and the busy world. I love the busy world, but I am grateful to live in a place where I can find seclusion so unchallenging, where a twenty minute drive takes me to the backwoods and the river bottom for a lovely dose of peace.

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