No More What Ifs
As bits of the hard exterior fall away I get closer to the essence of who I am.
Mom and I hopped out of my truck and squealed like excited schoolgirls as we took in the views. We inspected the scenic nook on the banks of the Snake River that we’d soon claim as home. We were in Wyoming, in a national forest a smidge south of Yellowstone National Park: No power, no running water except the river and no cell service. It was heaven and free living at its finest.
We stayed almost a week and took day trips to Yellowstone, but the Snake River kept calling me. It’s illegal to kayak rivers in Yellowstone, but south of our campsite paddling was free game as long as I bought a wilderness permit and had a Grand Teton watercraft inspection.
Downstream was pure untamed wilderness. Mom didn’t want me to go. There was no cell service, no road, no civilization, no idea what the river would be like, and no help. We had not seen anyone on the river during our stay.
I searched satellite views to find a place downriver where Mom could meet me with the truck. The closest spot was a campground on the north end of Grand Teton National Park. I packed some food, water, a few supplies and set off. My best guess was that I’d paddle to our meeting point in two hours, more or less.
Mom has lived through 30+ years of me going off on adventures and is used to my adventurous soul. She often shares how she accepts that if something were to happen to me, at least I’d be doing what I love. This instance was no different.
The trip was a stunning meander through another time. Miles away from everything and in the middle of it all. At times it felt like a journey through the Serengeti, with nothing but sand and the pale bones of old trees stripped by wildfires. Then there were long swaths of lush forest. The sounds of nature bathed me in serenity. All the while the backdrop was towering snowcapped Tetons.
What I hadn’t accounted for was that we were in a drought, and water levels at the meeting spot were 10-20 feet lower than normal. I saw my big white truck and Mom parked up on a cliff, but between me and the truck was about 50 yards of thick soupy mud, covered in green algae.
It was impossible to stand without sinking up to my knee. Even crawling was near impossible. I tied a rope to the bow of my kayak and wrapped it around my right hand so I could drag the kayak behind me. Then I gripped my paddle in my left hand and used it to provide some surface area to push against as I crawled on all fours through the muck.
I left the kayak at the base of the cliff and scurried up to where mom stood next to the truck.
“How will you get that kayak up here and what if you can’t get it clean?” Mom said. “If we drive with it like that we could be fined.” She pointed at a government sign that stated it’s illegal to transport dirty watercraft that may spread invasive species.
Mom and I stood on the side of a dirt road above what was left of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Her hair was neatly pulled back in a pony tail that dangled over the back strap of her visor. She was dressed for a day at the beach, flip flops and all. I was barefoot and resembled a swamp monster. My arms and legs were plastered in thick mud that smelled of rotted algae and fish.
“And you! Are you going to get in the truck like that?” She wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “There’s no water here. Where will you find water?”
“Stop it. I can’t, Mom,” I cut her off. “I am allergic to living in the land of make believe.”
The summer heat was rising and mud fell from me in little clumps.
“No more. No what ifs. None,” I said in a voice that bordered on a scream. “My mind can’t go there. I can only deal with what is right now. That’s it.”
Birds chirped and sang and the cottonwood leaves rustled above us.
“There is only one thing to do for now: Get the kayak up to the truck. I can’t plan around what might happen. I am allergic to what ifs.”
I rested my paddle and duffle bag on a log.
“Once the kayak is up here, I’ll know what to do next. Will you help me with that?”
Then I grabbed a red bucket from my truck bed and took a walk to let my piss poor attitude settle and try to find some water.
A hiker pointed me towards water and I made a few trips back and forth. Within half an hour the kayak was clean and secured on the truck. I stripped down to my skivvies and rinsed off too. All was well in the world and we drove back to our riverside camp happy as pigs in mud.
That experience was a turning point for me, Mom too. I never knew I was allergic to what ifs until the words fell out of my mouth. More often than not, it is a waste of my sanity to imagine what might happen even five minutes from now and try to plan for it. People sometimes hear this and say, “So you don’t plan anything?”
Sometimes I plan. When the tickle of my soul says to plan, I plan. Me and God, we want the same thing. Peace lives in simplicity.
I live in a world of what is, not in a world of what ifs.
Today I read this piece to mom and I felt bad for getting so upset. Mom did have some good points. I asked her what she thought of the story and what she has seen since then about what ifs.
“I’ve seen a lot more, and I don’t dwell on what ifs as much,” she said, lying next to me, snuggled under the covers in her bedroom. We are both in a small town in Florida. My Airstream is parked outside the window. We are thousands of miles and oodles of experiences away from that cliffside incident with the muddy kayak. “I still go there, I’m only human,” she continued, “but I let it go. I let the what ifs go, more often than not.”
As bits of the hard exterior fall away I get closer to the essence of who I am. The further and further Mom got from home, the more we got to hurl ourselves into the adventure of living.
The journey longs to have its ever-surprising way with us. What is happening is what is happening. Period. If I spend too much time in “What if” scenarios it drives me crazy. It’s a fruitless grind I’m no longer willing to sludge through.
Mom has been carved by life, we both have.
From where I sit, it seems she rarely goes into what ifs now… and that alone is the blessing of all blessings.
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