It was hot on the Salmon last week - over 100 degrees for days on end. It felt like living in a dryer. To maintain some sense of aliveness I developed the habit of rising before the sun to run in the cool air that had descended upon the river from the higher elevations overnight, and staying up well past sunset to revive myself in the cool water of the Salmon river.
One night, after another scorching day, I descended down the steep sandy slope into the deep eddy of the Indian Creek camp. Floating, gazing up at the starry night sky, I drifted upstream in the eddy current. I let myself get farther away from the boats, thinking the view of the stars from the middle of the river would be pretty neat. Suddenly feeling vulnerable, irresponsible, and a lost sense of scale and distance back to the boats, I aborted mission, instead turning and swimming against the current downstream back to camp.
The next morning, after a trot up Indian Creek, I returned to camp ready to cool off in the river before the day's heat set in. Seeing the giant eddy, I once again let myself float upstream, this time patiently letting the current circle me out into the middle of the river. Bobbing along the eddy line I waited to be carried downstream until it was time to steer myself into shore. Rising from the silence of the still sleeping camp, a bald eagle lifted out of a snag, and slowly swooped over the middle of the river. In that moment of vulnerability, I could see the folds of its skin over its talons, the curvature of its beak, the individual feathers of its wings, and most notably, the gaze of its eye as it looked down at me.
Only a handful of other times have I experienced such stunning avian magnitude. A golden eagle once flew alongside me for a moment in the badlands of New Mexico on the Great Divide route, close enough to make me and my bike feel small. An Andean Condor circled down over Kurt and me as we sat in an exhausted heap among only cinder on the shoulder of Volcan Villaricca. Then, too, I caught the eye of the gigantic bird as it assessed our existence. And now, bobbing in the bubble line of a gigantic eddy, lost in the river and it’s swirls, a bald eagle swept over me. I was in awe.
I don’t know what it thought, or what it wanted to know. But I do know that had I not relinquished myself to the current of the eddy, I would not have been that close to a bald eagle. It most certainly was not to be intrigued by humans standing on shore. This idea of going with the flow, not turning and swimming against the current to get back (which took more time and effort than the full eddy lap), and trusting that yes, the current will not only bring you back to where you’re expected to be, but presence, vulnerability, and trust can reveal the most pure, blissful of moments.