press record, and play

He speaks the Queen’s English, but waits to shout this out until our raft folds in half as we steer into the white-foam waves. At the front of our raft, riding bull, is my daughter. Her hair is the color of  a rising sun. She is sure  if she falls in, someone will yank her out.  And we will, and we do.  We do.

In the back of the raft our South African guide drags his paddle. He’s wearing dark pink sunglasses and his wild hair is two shades lighter than  a high noon sun with all the color squeezed out. He cheers, Bully!, as the raft crests and buckles. Oy speek the Queen’s Anglish!

What would it be like to live half my years in South Africa just to raft the waterways, announcing to all who will hear me, I speak Montanian! when my raft tips over a waterfall? When I was my daughter’s age I had only begun to accumulate my own rafting stories of rafts torn apart on craggy rapids, of surviving hydraulic holes. I didn’t know then what I know now about numbered days.

And within arm’s reach of my daughter is my son, paddle in hand. He has a waterproof video camera strapped to his chest. He’s waiting for the rapids to subside so he can press record, and back-flip off the raft.

We reach a calm stretch and the six paddlers toss their paddles to the non-paddlers and jump in. We crane our necks to make out the dirt caves high above us; game trails and beaver slides lead down to the narrow, rocky bank. When it’s time to rejoin the raft, the swimmers are pulled aboard by the shoulder straps of their life vests. Dunk and heave: Wet swimmers are landed like trophy fish.

A bald eagle perches in a half-alive, half-dead cottonwood, and watches the way we play. What does he think, I wonder. Later a friend will answer: If you ask what he thinks, he’ll tell you how he feels.

The Yellowstone River is a brown, muddy roil just minutes from my front door, but this section of the river is a friendly green, fresh from the springs in Yellowstone Park. Come back next year, our guide suggests. Come for June water. The river is high and fast.

Yes, yes my kids agree.

No, no my old-lady-voice silently protests. What’s so wrong with  August water?

Twice along the eastern bank we find bubbling hot springs June’s high water would cover up. And now, thanks to the end of snowmelt, there’s room on the bank for the bare-chested banjo player. Standing beside him, the bikini-clad fiddler works out a tune we cannot hear as we come abreast of them. At first we paddle backwards, trying to linger to hear the music, but the current is stronger than all of us. One by one we grow still and become a floating hush, willing the music to reach us. And it does. It does. Ten or twenty raft-lengths downstream from the banjo and the fiddle, the second verse to The Irish Washerwoman climbs aboard our raft.



About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

8 responses to “press record, and play

  1. Too infrequent, my visits here once I’ve read your posts as email. It is a world unknown to me…Montana, rafts, rapids and I have loved every one of your posts since I first found my way to TOO MUCH AUGUST…. The August river and its music seem just right. Your awareness of and appreciation for the moments always touch me.

    • redmitten

      marylinn- finding our way to august (that is such a good line). it’s interesting that what is common to each of us is a new experience for others. thank you for helping me not discount what i often do.

  2. The sounds in your work never disappoint. And don’t move so fast that you can’t hear the music.

    • redmitten

      john s- ah, you know i didn’t think about that aspect when i was rafting or paddling or writing this. good point. and i am glad you hear the way you do, but then you come from a musical realm.

  3. beautiful. and great photographs too. love ’em. i want to be there…x j

    • redmitten

      thanks! we couldn’t take cameras on the raft, but i am hoping my son’s videos turn out (and that he will soon share them so i can post one here). i figured you for white water.

  4. This reminds me of a trip on Westwater I took last year. Colorado to Utah. We were on the river for 5 days – such a simple life: travel the water, set up camp, set up the kitchen, eat, drink, sleep, get up, take down the kitchen, take down the camp, travel the water. I loved trying to read the river – the “V.” She’d tell you were to go if you were looking hard enough. And when you weren’t – Yup, she’d flip you as she flipped me out of our boat no matter the high side.

    • redmitten

      rachel, i love that: travel the river.

      and yes, listen and pay attention. i would love a five day trip. helps a person get down to the basic links in the food chain. that sense of groundedness is evident in the way you write, btw (!)

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