I remember with a smile the days before either of us knew the other was in love. He was in the back of a canoe we shared on a snowy day that we’d agreed was perfectly adequate for paddling. Our friendly adoration for the other was held with heart in this moment of innocent beauty. As I felt fully present in this point in time, the gentle splash of oar on water was woven with his humming; his song choice—Mason Jennings, “Be Here Now.”
Be here now, no other place to be,
All the doubts that linger, just set them free,
And let good things happen,
And let the future come into each moment like a rising sun.
I found myself encapsulated with that same feeling of love and peacefulness recently, and with the same man steering in the back of the canoe. This time, however, was wrapped in the new dimension of our shared professions of love for one another and the growing experience of working together as a couple.
This man’s name is Kris Laurie, and he’s currently completing a source-to-sea descent of the Missouri River. He set off with snowshoes this past April to find the river’s utmost source in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. From there, he began the 3,800-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, a trip inspired by his mother’s diagnosis of stage IV bladder cancer that has since grown to include an opportunity to connect others with the redemptive qualities of time spent outside.
I look forward to meeting the incredibly hairy man at the end of the waterway late this fall, but I was also grateful to join him in the adventure this past August for the 250 miles from Omaha to Kansas City. I found within these humid, muddy, mosquito-laden miles some of the purest elegance on how to live a life. I learned lessons on love and togetherness that are, perhaps, best taught by a river.
Our days were simple. Wake with the ferocity of the Midwest’s rising summer sun. Make coffee. Watch Kris drink his while it’s still scalding hot. Wait until mine hits that temperature sweet spot and then chug it down before it gets too cold. Cook and eat breakfast. Take down the tent. Pack camp back up into the canoe. Paddle on. Find a good sandbar for camping. Kris cooks dinner. I set up the tent. We share a meal. We spend moments together. We sleep. We wake with the sun. We do it all over again.
There’s a lot of comfort in the ritual of this routine. There’s so much to note about letting go of our mental to-do lists, digital distractions, and daily worries. Yet, as romantic as this comfort might sound, between the brutal heat, filth, and small space of the journey, it’s also cradled in an ongoing discomfort that is so pervasive that the only way to overcome it is to be fully present with it in the moment. To fight it, to wish for better conditions rather than to embrace what the river gave, was a fruitless effort that could only end in dissatisfaction.
In her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, meditation teacher, Tara Brach, writes,
We are uncomfortable because everything in our life keeps changing—our inner moods, our bodies, our work, the people we love, the world we live in. We can’t hold on to anything—a beautiful sunset, a sweet taste, an intimate moment with a lover, our very existence as the body/mind we call self—because all things come and go. Lacking any permanent satisfaction, we continuously need another injection of fuel, stimulation, reassurance from loved ones, medicine, exercise, and meditation. We are continually driven to become something more, to experience something else.
She explains how this condition of grasping to hold on to more of what we deem enjoyable keeps us trapped in the suffering of craving, of not being or having enough. Freedom, she teaches, occurs when we pause and allow ourselves to pay attention to and accept the details of our moment-to-moment experience.
One evening, after sharing a pot of Thai red chicken curry on a nice sandy island, we hopped back into the canoe and floated for a while, watching a spectacular sunset meet the sky. We’d decided to paddle through the evening, to enjoy the calm coolness of the dark and the stars. As we paddled, my heart felt filled with adventure and care. We enjoyed the feeling of the night on our skin, shared tender dialogue, and listened ever closer to the river’s song. The lack of light caused us to heighten our attention to our surroundings, to find the bliss in that present moment.
We paddled on, but eventually noticed the brightness of lightning in the distance. I felt initial trepidation. I started to doubt my original desire to paddle in the dark. Grasping for the peaceful moment that had just been, my thoughts started changing to how I’d wished there’d been less cloud cover so we could better see the stars. I began to ruminate on how I should’ve been earlier to rise that day, so that maybe we wouldn’t have decided to add extra miles in the night. I started feeling bad about potentially getting Kris into a situation that would cause him any worry.
All the while, the lightning slowly made its way closer. We decided to start looking for a campsite that would provide good shelter from the storm. However, as we began to look, we learned how difficult that was in the dark, and that we weren’t on the best stretch of river for solid sandbars. When the rumble of thunder finally met us, we settled on a shore that was well enough sheltered from the storm, though more a bank of muck than of solid sand. Across the river was also a stretch of train tracks that would prove to have heavy traffic through the night, competing mightily with the sounds of the wind and the rain. It wasn’t an ideal place to rest our heads.
Kris worked on tying up the canoe, as I grabbed bags from the boat to haul high up on shore. I sunk a little into the mud with each step I took. We then worked together to start setting up the tent, and Kris ran about quickly, guying it out for the increasing winds and rain. By the time we were both in the tent, rain pounded angrily on our shelter.
I looked over at Kris who, with a basal body temperature that already runs hot, experiences additional misery in the Midwest’s humid summer heat. He sat sweating, muddy, and uncomfortable, and I knew he was disappointed we hadn’t been able to find a better site. The inside of our tent was a humorous display of hurry and dirt. I glanced at Kris again, and my heart swelled with love and compassion seeing him in this moment, exactly as he was. I thought of his humming.
Be here now, no other place to be,
Or just sit there dreaming of how life would be,
If we were somewhere better,
Somewhere far away from all our worries,
Well, here we are.
I found our pack of baby wipes and started giving him a good old-fashioned backcountry bath, running the cool sheets across the waterfall of hot sweat on his back, neck, and arms. I released myself from the story of how the night could’ve been, from the grasping for the peace that had been, and I relished this little moment of bringing a man I love a little comfort in a time of discomfort.
Later, when the sound of thunder crashed as though it was just above us, and my timid heart tightened as I lied on my sleeping pad, Kris reached out a hand to place on mine. It was his own little moment of comfort to me in a time of discomfort—and it made that present moment enough, the two of us weathering a storm together.
The river is always changing. Each moment is different from the next. Some moments are ideal conditions and others seem to have come about just to slap you in the face.
In the 250 miles I spent on the Missouri River camping with Kris, I learned that the best way to experience the river was to “be here now”—not to get caught in the wishing for better winds, better weather, faster currents, nicer campsites, cleaner bodies, but to give myself the gift of feeling it exactly as it was, as a gift of this life. In the process, I understood the same to be true of love.
Each moment we spent in both comfort and discomfort grounded us in the beauty and love of that point in time. Each changing moment bestowed us the wonder of getting to love and accept each other exactly as we were right then. Now, whenever I reminisce on the hypnotic movement of canoe paddle through water, I find myself humming.
Be here now, no other place to be,
This whole world keeps changing, come change with me,
Everything that’s happened, all that’s yet to come,
Is here inside this moment, it’s the only one.
Learn more about Korrin and Kris’s adventures down the river on their blog, Avoiding Barges.