Above, the sky spreads warm and blue, dappled here and there with thin brushstroke clouds. Canyon walls and distant mountains are a pastel frame. Water laps cold against my legs and arms. We lie belly up with sunshine emanating from our skin, each of us bright like a planet as the river carries us forward. What a lovely feeling to not have a thought in my head, I think. I lift my head to do that thing we do when the moment is good, looking from face to face of the friends at my side, placing their sprawled bodies onto their inner tubes atop the rippling, dark waters. I paint their postures inside the tan hills and hazy air. Maybe when we packed into our cars with our deflated rafts this oddly earned peace will leave. This imagining quickly becomes a certainty, but I dismiss it. Let this rest be good.
I imagine my nieces and nephews here. I fit their chubby arms into floaties, remembering the smell of plastic and the uncomfortable way it gripped my own arms when I was their age. A hesitant smile, splotches of white on their nose where sunscreen hasn’t soaked in. Big, plump eyes. Their faces are each a fixture in my mind. Soundbites of things they’ve said, songs they’ve sung, and tantrums they’ve thrown mix with the water’s rushing and the desert’s hot, breathy wind. It’s been weeks since I’ve called.
“My brother sent me a video of Nelly and Josie singing together.”
Saying their names makes me feel better. Something about it bridges the distance between here and the Midwest. I felt very adult the last time I saw them, sitting on a patio chair with a beer in hand, bending over occasionally to ask questions they didn’t answer. A few days later I was back in Seattle and it felt like coming home, like jumping into your bed’s cold sheets and warming them as you fall asleep. I feel bad about that, for loving two places at once. My nieces and nephews only know one place, and I’m not there. I am glowing in the desert, surrounded by friends fighting sleep on the Yakima river.
I trace the water’s surface with my nose. A body-length below, loose strands of sunlight drift over a pebbled floor. I wonder if life can truly be enjoyed like this: all of this nothing, this sumptuous oblivion. The air surfing along the water’s brim has a sweet taste, and breathing it in feels like a meal. I taste dry fields of grass, hardened earth, and mountain breezes. I digest the panorama and all its colors. Whenever the heat becomes too much, one only has to fall from their raft to feel the river’s cool lick.
Soon, I cannot help but wonder if this is how life should feel elsewhere, too. Maybe I don’t have to feel all things at once—the sky I can see and the eyes that I can’t; the presence of friends and Christ’s solemn quiet; the chill of the river and the chill of death. Everything has its time. For now, I can eat the world.