Women’s Sands of Time
|I have worked as a commercial river guide for eighteen seasons, after growing up as an outfitter’s daughter of Barker River Trips, Lewiston, Idaho. As long as I can remember, my family has worked to protect the Salmon River; to keep it free-flowing and to keep additional dams from being located on its sister river, the Snake.
When I was old enough I found my niche in the company by guiding women’s trips.The evolution was slow as they began with my mother’s and my close friends, lots of river ‘ritas (margaritas river style) and a little sun bathing in the secluded sections of the Lower Salmon River Canyon. These trips were always empowering for the women as they sought to survive and protect one another in the wilderness, a place often perceived to be a man’s realm.
| The Salmon is soft, not surly. It’s home to fish who swim over 400 miles from the mountain streams of Idaho to the ocean and back to spawn. It’s the life force held within this river that has offered something special to me and my family.|
As a child I witnessed my mom’s love of the river through her unofficial women’s river retreats on the Lower Salmon. After the first night on a trip, my mom and her girlfriends would wave goodbye to the rest of the group, staying at the beach until the next trip returned in about three days. I always begged to stay but my dad and brothers told me I would have to wait until I was older.
Devon, dressed for the sun, with a smile as bright as the sun! © Jessica Marsan
The merry flotilla, with stylish umbrellas.
© Jessica Marsan
|On a recent summer one of our women’s trips began somewhat the same way. With three of my best friends as guides, Allegra, Martha, and Megan, my mother, Mary’e and Allegra’s mother, Deanna, as our yoga and meditation instructor we launched for a late July trip. We ate lunch on an expansive sandy beach with our legs in the free-flowing water of the Salmon River. With the sand between all of our toes I realized our ages ranged from twenty-one to seventy. A life spread of forty-nine years amongst us and yet the river still holds something for each of us. Some of us were charging down the river with paddles in our hands while others held on as the raft approached the rapids. We all floated easy rapids in our life jackets and basked in the sun.|
Meditation and yoga held in the early light of morning gave each of us time to reflect on our own lives. I grew up on the Salmon and sharing it with others is always a treat. I know where all the good jumping rocks are, shade trees, Nez Perce caves and Chinese dwellings; but what I reflected on the most was the joy one can find from the river at any age.
|This retreat was characterized more by each person’s personal reflections, with less emphasis on the normal raft guiding and historical hikes typical of other trips. Marion was seventy and enjoyed sleeping out each night under the stars. Stefani loved her early morning hikes, Megan, her early morning swims. My mother, the one who taught me how to play, enjoyed slow mornings drinking tea while still in her sleeping bag. I would sit with her in the mornings, my Lab Ally curled up between us, remembering all the trips on the river. Is this how she started her mornings on those early women’s river retreats?|
Yoga on one of the Salmon’s wonderful sandy beaches. © Jessica Marsan
We had extreme temperatures, tons of swimming, laughing, meals and a few river ‘ritas. Our last day was the hottest day I can remember. The sun scorched us and the canyon retained its heat until late in the evening. Our final evening, with the dishes done, we all joined for a gift exchange. I got a thinly wrapped package and found this poem inside:
Women are cool
Women are strong
Women can paddle all day long
The rapids they swirl
The rapids they curl
And, make us all feel like little girls
This has been a rockin’ vacation
Every day starts with meditation
And, our awesome guides then take their rippin’ throttles
The overhead sun blazes
While the icy bevvies offer a happy haze
Then our tireless guides fill our tanks
And, Deanna fills our spirit banks
It’s time for a big thanks!
Let’s lift a glass and cheers
Cause this all-chick, trickle trip is in the memory
bank for years!
Stefani, July 23, 2006
Our last morning meditation was shared as a group. We each brought a rock we found along our way and shared our favorite moment of the trip and then passed our rock on for the others to see. As each person shared her favorite moment, I learned a little more about my purpose as a guide. Sometimes it might be a challenging line in a rapid, but more often it was the quiet moments I shared with the women on the trip deep within the Salmon River Gorge.
Guiding this diverse group made me realize that enjoying the river is something I will always be able to do. I may not be rowing a raft or leading a group of kayakers down the rapids, but you can bet I will be holding on to that lifeline on the raft as we enter the rapids!
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in one of Devon’s all-women trips, drop her an email for details: email@example.com.