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August is here! It is the time in the Wheel of the Year when the Father God sacrifices himself again so that all life may continue to live. It is the time of the first harvests, yellowing grass, ripening fruits and the shorter but hotter dog days. It is the time of manly and physical energies, of Lugh and Osiris, Adonis and Jesus as he fights, lives and dies for his beloved (that would be you, me and all of creation!). Each of these deities go on a journey, leaving their life behind and traveling into death only to reemerge alive again. August is a time for all kinds of journeys, mythical and physical, magical and mundane, godly and very, very human.
One of Portlander's favorite ways to spend a hot summer day is to float down one of our many beautiful rivers. On the weekend closest to August Eve I set out with my sister and a couple friends to float down the Clackamas, a river named after one of the original native peoples of the area. It flows down off the slopes of Mt. Hood through old growth forest and lush farmland into the Willamette, the river in the center of Portland itself. It is a beautiful river that runs swift and clean for many miles just outside the Portland metro area.
The day started out like any other hero's journey, with a call to adventure. This happened to take the form of some phone calls and text messages, but hey, even hero's are subject to 21st century technology. After acquiring our tubes, some river safe sandals and sustenance for the trip we were off!
By the time we finally arrived, packed our backpacks, blew up our tubes and slathered on the sunscreen we were very, very ready for the river. Our first challenge was to face the threshold monster in the rapids right after the boat ramp. We were hardly wet yet and the rapids looked very, very scary. I believe I screamed "we are all going to die" repeatedly as the current took my tube and sloshed it down the rapids. We did not die but were rewarded with a lovely deep pool and rocks to jump off of right after the rapids.
Onwards we went, paddling or floating, through rapids and calm water. It was a beautiful warm day and the water was pleasantly cool, but not too frigid. We saw trout in the river and vultures, bald eagles and osprey overhead. I love how fully immersed in the river you have to be when tubing, both literally and psychologically. The rapids on this stretch of the Clackamas are not so dangerous that doing them on an inflatable tube is foolhardy, but they do pose a genuine risk if you treat them flippantly. You have to watch the water, choose your line through the rapid and paddle your body appropriately to avoid hitting rocks or overhanging trees. One friend banged an elbow pretty bad on one rapid and my sister got tossed arse over teakettle in another. I hit my bottom hard on a rock, but luckily it is well padded and no one was seriously hurt. It makes me feel really alive to feel the river like that, to be so fully engaged with the physics of the universe.
We had a wonderful time, horsing around and enjoying the sights until someone asked if we had passed the pull out where our car was. Oh no. We asked some other rafters if we were past McIver park and they laughed at us. Yup. Crap. In an inspired moment of group-think, the four of us decided to deflate our rafts and head up the bank of the river towards the highway, which we assumed would be close. Like Odysseus facing Charybdis and Scylla or Luke Skywalker and the rebel fighters battling AT-AT walkers on Hoth, we valiantly fought that river side slope. It was covered in blackberries and stinging nettle. We lost sandals in knee deep mud and fell off fallen logs. We were sure we could make it all on our own!
But then we couldn't. We realized that we were not going to get out of this with only our own abilities and wits. Frodo finally decided to trust Gollum and we decided that we were going to have to trust the river and the luck of the hitchhiker to get back home. We re-inflated our tubes and headed on to whatever we might find downriver. Lady Luck was faithful and sent us a guy with a truck to bring us up to the highway from the boat ramp. We walked along the road for a while, worried that we would have to hike the whole way back but then, joy of joys, a car pulled over! It was another river floater who had been picked up by a hitchhiker herself earlier in the day. She drove us all the way back to our car with a smile and a kind word for our weary crew.
Our hero's journey ended, like all good rituals, with a feast cooked over an open fire. We grilled hamburgers and sat on the deck, aching, stinging and sunburned but happy. We had faced the challenges and, with the help of some luck and blessing, made it out alive and better for it. August in Portland is a magical time, and our day on the river was a perfect way to start it off.
What journeys have you made this summer? Which male deity is your favorite and why? When have you ever trusted and had your trust repaid with a boon? How did you spend August Eve this year? What rivers are near your house and how do you enjoy them? Happy beginning of the harvest season!
Photos by brx0, Tom Clifton and Matt.Picio. Click on the photos or on their names to see more of their Clackamas River photos and other photography. Thanks!
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August Eve 2009: August Eve In the Woods!
August Eve 2010: August Eve, The Subtle Turning
This post is also about the Hero's Journey, which I also discuss in the post from this past Journey Moon, Perseus and the Journey Moon.