Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Saints on the Chattooga

I just finished Saints at the River by Ron Rash and it is an excellent book that conjured up vivid memories from my childhood and early adulthood. I picked it up by sheer luck (it was on sale and I liked the sound of the title), at the Gothic Bookstore at Duke University a few days ago while I was waiting to meet with a ministry colleague and only a few pages in and I knew all the hidden names of my most favorite river in all the world--the Chattooga. The book centers around Raven Chute Rapid in all its transcendental glory with a 200 foot outcropping in the background. This image of this rapid held the book together for me like a tapestry, a backdrop of beauty, power, and possible death. The book took me through a host of emotions and memories from the terror of possibly losing a child, memories and my own understanding of baptism and death and how water is an element so common to both, and the host of the book--the Chattooga River.

When I was a little boy, I grew up at Eagle's Nest Camp in Brevard. I discovered whitewater canoeing and never looked back. By my second summer of paddling I was a part of an overnight trip to Section Three of the Chattooga. Someone took a picture of me taking a solo shot at Second Ledge and there I was with a sixteen foot Bluehole canoe beneath me, and a goofy pink helmet, and a plastic Carlisle paddle, and my gangly 80 pound body trying to muscle my way over those forgiving falls. Second Ledge looked big, but the pool at the bottom, unlike other rapids on the river, makes for a soft landing should one capsize. That memory and all the rest over the next few years would end with a look at the tricky double drop at Bull Sluice, but no camper was allowed to paddle it. I remember finally becoming a counselor at age 18 and as I stood scouting on the river right bank, I thought, "Now, there is no one to stop me from doing this." The power of the river and I had come face to face and I knew I would try to gather my fears and turn them to focus as I maneuvered the first of many class 4-5 rapids that would drive my activities over the next seven years and take me to the Gauley, and the middle Green, and creeks and rivers in Colorado.

Memories of Section Three of the Chattooga pale in comparison to points downstream--Woodall Shoals, and Seven Foot Falls, Raven Chute Falls, and Five Falls. Their grandeur is too great to put to words for now, but I will think on it for later.

This article at the link below gives a description of the drowning that is clearly the loose basis for the book.

As tormented as I would be by the death of any of my own children, and as important as I think physical bodies are in the human experience, I would not want a fight to be the overwhelming story of a child's death. The bottom of a river as beautiful as the the Chattooga--there are worse graves.

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