“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
Sometimes the universe has plans for us other than the ones we make for ourselves. I’d arranged to go on an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail with a friend to celebrate the solstice. For a multitude of reasons, we never made it to the trailhead much less out on the trail itself.
Just as my summer solstice plans were falling apart, an acquaintance sent a text with GPS coordinates and a short message “Went here last weekend. River, trees, lovely, peaceful. Go!” I don’t always do what my phone commands, but, suddenly free and wanting to shake off the stress of the last few weeks, I decided to check out the suggestion. An hour and many miles of twisting mountain roads later, I found a grassy pull-off at the coordinates. A barely visible break in the vegetation at the roadside marked a path down to the river below.
The spot was as promised and more. At the end of the short climb down the narrow tunnel through the wildly growing vegetation, the ground flattened out to a sandy shoal dotted with stones worn into smooth ovals by time and flowing water. A slow moving river edged past the shoal, journeying around a rocky outcrop upriver, past the tree line bank opposite and meandering out of sight again a little further down stream. Tiny flakes of muscovite dotted the river bed and shone out from the river rocks, creating a sparkling effect to the already beautiful water. When the sunlight hit the smallest bits of mica just right, the riverbed gave the appearance of being dotted with tiny, shimmering rainbows.
It has been a long time since I’ve willingly plunged into a cold river, but the lazy current and warm day made it hard to resist. I let myself drift easily downstream, walked back along the rock strewn shallows, and began again. I repeated this process a dozen or more times, recalling the liminality of such places – the shifting water renewing itself constantly over the thousands of years that the river has run this course and creating a fluid, flowing boundary with ever-changing thresholds to explore. In this place, the heartsong of the mountains can be heard as you immerse yourself in the very blood and bones of the land.
Such places can change us if we allow it. At the end of the visit, I reclined back on the sun-kissed shoal feeling far calmer and more grounded than I have in a long time. I also came away with a fresh perspective on some old problems. The experience created a much needed reminder of the magic that exists in the natural world, if we’re willing to slow down and pay attention. Who knew that a set of GPS coordinates could be such an unexpected gift?