The evening was stunning. The river's graceful movements caused the water's colors to shift from cobalt to silver to black. No other person was in sight. We had Oxbow Bend to ourselves. In record time we had the canoe in the river, life vests securely fastened, paddles at the ready, boys installed, and off we went, a race to drink as deeply of as much beauty as possible, together.
An old wooden bridge hung low across the river, its broken remains looked as though they would collapse at the next strong breeze. We had to duck to pass underneath. Carefully, we navigated the winding channels of the Snake-John in back, me in front, our three boys in between full of wonder and delight. As the stars began to come out, we were like the children present at the creation of Narnia-the sky so clear, the stars so close. We held our breath as one fell slowly, slowly across the sky and disappeared.
A beaver slapped the river, the sound like a rifle shot, frightening two ducks into flight, but all we could see between the darkened water and sky were the white ripples of their wake, like synchronized water-skiers. Owls began their nightly calls in the woods above, joined by sandhill cranes along the shore. The sounds were familiar, yet otherworldly. We whispered to one another about each new wonder, as the paddles dipped almost but not quite silently in and out of the water.
Night fell. Time to take out. We planned to go ashore along a cove closest to the road, so we wouldn't have to walk too far to find our car. We didn't dare try to take out where we had put in...that would require paddling against the current with little ability to see where we were going.
As we drifted towards the bank a bull moose rose from the tall grasses, exactly where we had planned to come ashore. He was as dark as the night; we could see him only because he was silhouetted against the sky, jagged mountains behind. He was huge. He was gorgeous. He was in the way. Blocking the only exit we had. More people are killed in national parks by moose than by any other animal. 1,700 pounds of muscle and antlers, remarkable speed, and total unpredictability make them dangerous indeed. It would take about two seconds for him to hit the water running and capsize our canoe. We could not pass. The mood changed. John and I were worried now. There was only one alternative to this way out, now closed to us, and that was paddling back up river in what had become total darkness. Silently, soberly, we turned the canoe and headed up, searching for the right channel that would keep us out of the main current. We hadn't planned on the adventure taking that turn but suddenly, everything was required. John must steer with skill; I must paddle with strength. One mistake on our part, and the strong current would force the canoe broadside, fill it, and sweep our boys off downriver into the night.
It was glorious.
We did it. He did. I did. We rose to the challenge working together, and the fact that it required all of me, that I was in it with my family and for my family, that I was surrounded by wild, shimmering beauty and it was, well, kind of dangerous made the time . . . transcendent. I was no longer Stasi. I was Sacagawea, Indian Princess of the West, a valiant and strong woman.