Sunday, December 15, 2013


It had been an unusually rainy spring with heavy storms all across Texas, therefore the river was running high.

“This is a lot better than last time,” said Jim. “Last time we were in a drought. The river was so shallow in some places we had to carry the canoes. Then Eddie Ray had his heat-stroke and we had to carry him too.”

“Wow," I said, "that must have been some work.”

“Yes,” said Jim. “Plus it was in a hundred-degree heat. It's a wonder we all didn't have heat strokes. But this is much better. This won't hardly be any work at all. Let's take a break.”

He stopped paddling. I did the same. The canoe did not need our help; the current was so strong it did not need our help at all.

Jim made himself more comfortable. He lay down in the canoe with his feet propped up on the ice chest and the back of his head on the seat, using his life jacket as a pillow, relaxed and enjoying the blue morning sky.

The canoe began slowly turning in circles, but kept on course down the middle of the river. It was so pleasant, riding the canoe round and round in those lazy circles, enjoying the landscape and river and sky, and so quiet—just the water lapping against the canoe or a fish splashing or a bird calling from the wooded deeps. I could not remember when I had felt so carefree and dreamy and relaxed. Not one tense muscle, not a worry in my head, perfect contentment ...

“This is the life,” I said.

Jim smiled. “Yeah.”

“You were right. This is just what I needed. I feel like a new man.”

“That's wonderful.”

“Yes, I feel young again, like I've been reborn.”

The canoe was turning faster now—so fast it felt like a playground merry-go-round, which made me feel younger than ever.

“Wheeeee!” I went, and we laughed.

I love this river, I thought, and remembered the good times: camping and fishing with my father, and later as a teenager going to the river with Jim and other friends to get high and party. And then, afterwards, all those years when I only saw the river from highway bridges—the I-35 bridge in Waco mainly, traveling from Austin to North Texas to visit family and old friends—and always when I crossed the bridge looking at the river with longing.

I went away, I thought, but the Brazos River has always been here waiting for me. The good old Brazos, waiting for me to come home. Los Brazos de Dios, the Arms of God, waiting to receive me.

“Rio de los Brazos de Dios,” I said aloud.

“What?” said Jim.

“That's the full name of the Brazos. It means the Arms of God.”

“I didn't know that.”

“You know how it got that name?”

Suddenly the canoe—going faster and faster, uncontrolled—wobbled, threatening to capsize. I grabbed my paddle. Jim jumped up and grabbed his, and we got the canoe under control.

“That was close,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Jim, “this current is really moving fast. We'll have to be more careful.”

We rowed on without further incident, working hard but comfortably seated on our life jackets and enjoying the fine morning.

As it got later, other canoeists began appearing on the river. As we passed them—or they us—we would exchange hellos. Life on the river was lazy and free and friendly.

The sun climbed higher. It grew warmer. We were getting tired and hungry and wanted to smoke a joint. So we started looking for a place to land.

It took a while, for the banks along this stretch of river were too dense with foliage, or steep or both, for a landing. But eventually we saw an island up ahead that looked good.

The island was not in the middle of the river, but close to shore. In fact, it was so close to shore it might have been a peninsula for all we knew; we could not see all the way around it. Not that it mattered whether it was a peninsula or an island; it had a smooth sandy bank that was perfect for a canoe landing and would be a good place to laze away an hour or so before continuing our journey.

The logical place to land was on the side of the island facing the river—that is, it was closer. But, as we neared the island, I said, “Let's take the other side.”

I can't remember exactly why I said this. It was an impulsive decision that sprang from a spirit of discovery, I seem to recall. The side facing the open river was visible and known; the shoreward side was mysterious and might lead to something wonderful: a secret grotto perhaps, or shaded waterfall where I could cool my feet in the rushing water and have a smoke while gazing up dreamily into the rustling oaks …

It was not the logical choice, you see, but the emotional or idealistic one. Anyway, logical or idealistic, did it matter which side? One side of an island is as good as another one, is it not?

This is the best I can reconstruct the reason for my choice of the shoreward side. Suffice to say that when I voiced this idea to Jim, he saw nothing wrong with it. Thus, we started rowing towards to the shoreward side …

(To be continued)