On the Russian River

Early morning fog rising though the redwoods on the Russian River.  Twenty-four guys in tents.  Only Thomas is up, preparing breakfast for the group.  We’re amazingly lucky that Thomas, a professional chef and restaurant owner, is along on the trip. He’s dicing potatoes and onions, frying bacon over the coals, slicing mango, whipping eggs, grilling sourdough bread.

It’s still early and some of the guys are sitting at the river’s edge, meditating.  It’s silent.  The morning’s calm and peaceful.  Krishnan rebuilds the fire from the night before; the day begins.

This is a fellowship of men with a common purpose.  Men who have come together from different life journeys.  Each will return to their own paths, connected by bonds of friendship and support.  Some of us are wounded; some are strong.  Some quiet; others full of jokes.  All of us have possibilities yet to be seen.

What does it mean to be part of a group–this group of men here on the Russian River, spending the weekend together for the third time in as many years?  The composition has changed a bit each year, but it’s the same group, enjoying the same fellowship.  Our time together is precious.  It’s larger than each of us on own own.  We sit around a campfire and tell stories, stories about ourselves, our secrets and pain, happy times, passions, our hopes, fears and dreams.

It’s early evening on the river.  Steelheads jump, flashing their silver bodies for just a moment, caught in the corner of my eye.  Dan casts his line into the cold dark water, slowing pulling in the line, a few tiny nibbles bobbing the fly.  Mike and Patrick try their hand.  No one catches anything, but that’s okay.  It’s a moment out of our everyday lives as the light fades into near darkness.  This is serenity–what we ask for and rarely experience.  The weekend is serene.  We don’t want to change anything.

Shall our blood fail?  Or shall it come to be

The blood of paradise?  And shall the earth

Seem all of paradise that we shall know?

The sky will be much friendlier then than now,

A part of labor and a part of pain,

And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning

The night air is cold.  I put on all my layers.  Tommy is roasting marshmallows, making s’mores.  He constructed a six-piece stick to move dessert along.  We’re twelve years old again.  It’s summer camp in the Adirondacks.  Everyone laughs–our jokes maybe a little more off color than years ago.  Our mood settles down, grows quieter.  More stories unfold.  Facing the fire we’re warm and glowing; behind it’s cold and dark.  There are stars in the sky, never seen in the city.  We listen and learn things about each other we never knew.  We grow closer.

Night ends and each of us make our way back to our tents.  No one stays up.  We’re not a rowdy bunch.

I’ve looked forward to this camping trip for a year.  It’s been a year since our last one.  At the last minute we had to scramble to find an alternative site, our booked accommodation having given up our space to a reggae festival. –of all events!  Rob called around and found the perfect campground, only a few miles away.  More perfect than Guerneville.  No panic; everyone found their way to Duncans Mills.  The weekend was more than saved.

I want to hold this time for another year.  Longer if I can.  There’ll be bumps and setbacks and many crossroads along the way.  But I want this time of fellowship to hold true, stay close to me.  I want to be reminded that this kind of peace and happiness is real.  It really does exist.  Is it bigger than my heartbreak?  When I was suffering at the beginning, I asked my therapist if the pain would ever go away.  He answered, “No.  But you will grow bigger.”

This is bigger.  Being with these guys, finding friendship and connection around the fire, walking in the redwood forests, knowing the river is flowing behind us, is bliss.  It’s bigger than I am, than any of us.

Sunday morning we have another stupendous breakfast, break camp, head home to San Francisco and the lives we left only two days ago.  I traveled up and back with Darren, as I’ve done the past two years. It seems to have become a tradition and we vow to repeat the ride again next year.  We talk about how grateful we are to be part of this group of men, to have had this weekend all together.

I can’t predict where I’ll be in a year.  It’s hard enough to predict tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll be lucky and make it.  I hope so.  I could be run over by a bus.  It happens in San Francisco!  I’ve flown over three million miles–two million on American alone, earning upgrades for life–and I wonder on which flight my number will be up.  I’ve had some close calls.  It’s not a thought that frightens me.  I’ve experienced worse.

Thank you guys for being there, helping me find this happiness.  I hope I’ve helped, too.  See you Wednesday.

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1 Comment

  1. dudley

     /  October 4, 2012

    lovely, niland…


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