The River Spirit

Fan fiction, poetry, and lore. No adult content, please.

The River Spirit

Postby neildarkstar » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:32 pm

The River Spirit
by Neildarkstar

There is a place in the higher foothills of the High Sierras of Northern California, where a river tumbles down from the mountains over a series of waterfalls.

The water spills down in white plumes, dropping into a valley that it has spent millenia carving out of the solid rock of the mountain. The river bed at the bottom is littered with granite boulders, ranging from the size of a basketball to the size of a house. In the Spring when the water rises, these boulders are flung about like pinballs, and every year the layout of the riverbed changes.

The walls of the valley are very steep, very high, and said to have caves hidden under the lush green foliage that covers them. It's almost impossible to climb those walls to find out, though.

Local legends say that Chinese laborers lived in one of those caves when the railroad was being built, and rumors of treasure in that cave abound. Most people think that the Chinese laborers would have been very poor, and so no treasure is likely, yet the thought of antiques that might have been left behind lure treasure hunters to their deaths each year.

Some fall from the heights, some are battered to death in the white water rapids, and others are taken beneath the water and never surface again. I first saw this place in 1983 as a member of a Search and Rescue team looking for two lost hikers. A couple of young lovers had parked their car miles downstream, and ventured upriver, but hadn't returned. They were three days overdue. We never found any trace of them other than a backpack that had become entangled in a pile of driftwood.

The wild beauty of the place impressed me like few others ever had, and memories of it stayed with me for a very long time. Sometimes when I would be in the deserts of West Texas, visions of that green wilderness would grant me peace from relentless sun and endless sand.

Years later, I had taken a beating in almost every sense imaginable... Financially, romantically, and physically, and I was at the end of my strength. I returned to that place of wild water and untamed wilderness looking for a bit of solace.

I was not suicidal, but as I hiked slowly and painfully upriver, in my heart I knew that I did not really care if I returned alive or not. No Search and Rescue would come for me, nobody knew or cared where I was or where I was going, and that was how I preferred it.

My injuries slowed me, so it took two days for me to reach the spot I had in mind. I had no sleeping bag, so the first night I spent partially buried in sand in the lee of a huge granite boulder, and I was stiff and sore as I continued on the next day.

I came to the first waterfall, a drop of some eight or nine feet in mid-afternoon, and it took two hours to climb past it to a large pool that lay between that waterfall and the next. At the bottom of that narrow valley, the sun only shone directly for perhaps four or five hours a day, and was behind the valley walls the rest of the time, so it was shady and cool as I sat by the water's edge and feasted on a granola bar from my pouch. I had some dried apricot for desert, and set about looking for a spot to make my bed.

Again a large boulder provided a wall and base for my camp,so I grabbed some brush, deadfall, and driftwood to create a small lean-to with a more or less soft bed. Exhausted, I fell asleep early, and slept late.

For most of the morning, I sat quietly, watching the ripple of the water, the white plumes of the waterfall, and listening to the roar of the falls. One might say that sounds very boring, but I boring was about my speed at the time.

The day wore on, and by eleven am or so it had warmed up considerably so I stripped off my clothes, and waded out into the cool water.

The pool was large, more or less circular, and about thirty feet across, with a very large boulder near the center. A few smaller boulders were scattered here and there, churning the water to white foam as it rushed to get around them, creating little pools and eddy's of quieter water on the downriver side.

I swam out to where the waterfall splashed up a fine mist, and found the water was quite deep. I decided that I would have to try shooting the falls when I felt a little better. There were no major obstacles to hit in the water and it was deep enough to provide some safety.

I swam back to shore, rested ate a little, and laid in the hot sun that had finally found its way to the valley floor. I didn't bother getting dressed again, the likelihood of company was remote and clothes seemed to stifle the presence of the Spirit of that place. this was a place of wilderness, untamed things,and clothes were physical reminders of the restrictive nature of the civilized world that lay downriver.

I spent a couple of days in this fashion, and my physical condition was rapidly improving, making me restless to find other, more interesting, pursuits. On the third day I decided the time had come to "shoot the falls", so I spent an hour or so finding a way to climb up the twenty-five feet or so to the upper level. There was no trail, but there was a narrow ledge perhaps six inches wide that had been cut long ago when the river bed was much higher, so I used it.

I had to go slowly and carefully, because it was treacherous footing given growths of moss and other vegetation on the narrow rock. A twenty-five foot fall might not be fatal outright, but a broken leg or hip would probably be a death sentence anyway.

I finally made it to that upper pool, and since it had been difficult to get here, I decided to look around before I took the plunge. This pool was deeper and narrower than the one below, and the walls of the valley were almost vertical. It would require cliff climbing ability to scale them, and it would be dangerous because much of the rock was rotten. Not that it mattered, I wasn't going to be trying it.

The water was crystal clear, and with the sun shining straight down into it, everything on the bottom was clearly visible in places where it wasn't obscured by white water. I thought I might have seen gold nuggets a time or two, but I wasn't certain enough to spend any time trying to dive for what was probably nothing.

Eventually, I decided it was time to take the dare, and I swam out to as near the center of the river as I could get without being swept helplessly away. The current was swift and powerful so I quickly turned my head to the falls first just before I was swept over.

It was amazing! An exhilarating plunge head first to the pool below, and for a second I just seemed to hang in space, before dropping to the white water below. Fortunately, I managed to get a breath just before hitting the water, because once I was near the bottom, I was grabbed by an immensely powerful current.

I was dragged partially under the upstream side of that huge boulder which sat in the center of the pool, and I knew immediately there was no way I could swim back out of there. I'd been slammed into the rock with brutal force that nearly knocked the breath out of me, and pinned me in place by the force of the current.

I turned belly down, and kicked off of the rock with my toes as I tried to find anything I could grab to pull myself along with my hands. Here actually under the rock, it was dark, and very cool, and I thought that if I drowned here, my body would never move from this spot until the spring floods moved the boulder in some way.

Somehow that was not a comforting thought, and just as I thought my lungs wold burst, I rounded the side of the rock and was able to swim upward. As my head broke the surface, I was amazed to find that it was fully dark... How long could I have possibly been under water?

After a moment, I realized that the boulder was partly hollowed out, and I was actually inside of it. At one point there was a tiny glimmer of intermittent light, and at that point it was possible to swim out almost without going underwater at all. The boulder was in reality shaped something like a football helmet, but with the neck portion at the bottom closed.

The shape of the boulder at this point created an eddy in which huge gouts of bubbles came to the surface from the bottom, but the current was almost non-existent. It was like being in a large enclosed jacuzzi, and as my adrenaline rush faded, the fear was replaced by a terrific sense of well-being.

The bubbling upward current meant that no effort was required to just float there, weightless and timeless in the tiny massaging, tickling, teasing bubbles.

I don't know how long I stayed in their, in my dim womb of rock and water before I was reborn to the world of light. I swam to the shore, and decided that this night I would have a fire, though generally I didn't bother with one.

I gathered driftwood, and made a small firepit where my fire eventually crackled merrily. Late that night, I sat beside my fire of mostly glowing coals, and I looked at the stars in the narrow slit of sky that I could see.

It was an exceptionally starry night, and it seemed that there were millions of stars blazing like diamonds against a backdrop of ebony. My eyes filled with tears, and for the first time in years I cried for the beauty of the world, for the precious timeless pleasures of life that had nothing to do with civilization or people or the madness of possessions, and I was changed from that moment on.

The petty problems that had driven me here to this time and place wee reduced to insignificance, and I knew I could leave and take that gift with me. The problems of life would bother me far less in the future.

In the morning, I formally thanked the Spirit of that place for sharing its vision of the beauty of life, and the strength of nature with one as weak as I, and I began the long walk back down river.

As I went, I crossed a pile of driftwood, and, falling, sprained my ankle. As I reached for something to pull myself up with, I put my hand on a piece of driftwood. It was a perfect staff, and I think that was a parting gift for me to take with me on my journey through life.

All these years later, I still keep that staff near, and it sits within ten feet of me now. When I hold it, I can feel the rush of tiny bubbles on my body, and hear the roar of falling water beneath a starry, starry sky, and I am taken back to the place I never really left... and the Spirit of that place is with me still.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." - Movie "Flypaper"
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Re: The River Spirit

Postby DARoot » Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:44 pm

I just discovered this.
Great story, Neildarkstar!

Reminds me of a place I found, in Upstate New York, very similar (except, our mountains were not as tall...).

One of the times I went there, just to look at the water and the waterfall, I sorta got carried away by the beauty and majesty of the place, just as you describe.
[Unfortunately, during the day a couple of swans from a nearby Animal Refuge/Tourist Attraction - type place decided to settle in, and monopolized the rest of the afternoon there....]

Re: The River Spirit

Postby MadocMayhem » Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:19 pm

Beautiful, familiar, if not the scenery the feeling.

Ducky, you just know now I've an image of a poor humble working Ducky being chased off by Yuppie snooty swans.
Damn how's a working duck meant to live with all those high and mighty's taking his joys.
Swans I tell you give 'em a long sleek necks, big wings and an attitude, puts poor duck kind right in the crapper of society vis a vis water fowl.
Won, to, free, eye sore a monk key on a tire.
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Re: The River Spirit

Postby Anuket » Tue Apr 03, 2012 10:38 am

I love this story.
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Re: The River Spirit

Postby neildarkstar » Tue Apr 03, 2012 2:07 pm

I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. :)

"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." - Movie "Flypaper"
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