Life is Like a River

Rowing down the Green River

Last week I spent 7 wonderful days and nights on the Green River in Desolation and Gray Canyons. It was one of the nicest trips I’ve ever taken. My wife and I used this as the first (of many!) celebrations of our 30th wedding anniversary; I reconnected with Russ, an old friend from childhood; I met many new friends; I enjoyed life on the river and fondly recalled my summer job out of high school working for a commercial river running operation; I got some excellent rowing lessons from an expert boatsman; And I went for a week with ABSOLUTELY no email, cell phone, internet, blog, …! This is probably as close to paradise on earth as a person can get.

Mike, the expert river runner who was my adopted teacher for the trip, taught me several useful things. The one that has really stuck in my mind is that when you are setting up for a rapid, a few well-chosen early strokes are much better than a bunch of hard and frantic late strokes. How true that is. The times that I followed that advice led to relaxed and very nicely executed runs through rapids where I hardly even bumped into a rock. One time in particular that I didn’t follow this advice (and also completely pointed the boat in the wrong direction…), I almost broke an oar on a canyon wall while working my tail off to avoid being thrown into the wall by the water.

A few strokes early saves a lot of work later!

Then, I remembered sage advice from  Dave Grant, one of my favorite chemistry professors at the University of Utah. Dr. Grant used to tell me that if a person works hard early in life, it makes everything that follows much easier. If you are a good student in high school, you will get into a good college; if you get good grades and learn a lot in college, you can get into a good graduate school; etc.

Identical advice to running rapids, but just on a different time scale.

Life really is a lot like a river, and you are pulling the oars. It is tough to fight the current, so you need to learn to work with it. Smaller steps early tend to minimize drastic steps later. The rapids are exciting, but sometimes the very best moments are silently floating down the river with the ones you love.

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