As I was putting together the pieces about the Shannon River trip this week, Joni Mitchell’s River kept winding its way around in my head. This was strange because I hadn’t thought of the River song while I was on the river, but back in the Los Angeles desert, I found myself humming it at the oddest moments.
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
Rationally, I knew Joni’s river was not my river. In her song, she’s in Los Angeles at Christmas. She’s just lost her man, and she’s longing for a long frozen river that she can skate away on.
I’m in Los Angeles at the beginning of autumn, and I’m longing for a wide river deep in most places and flowing with some crazy currents in other places. I don’t skate because I broke my wrist on an icy playground in the second grade. I’m an ice coward.
Still, there’s a longing in the song that I relate to. I wish I had a river so long. That wish. It’s not just a wish you make when you throw a penny in a fountain or blow a dandelion. It’s a wish for something bigger than yourself that you can’t quite name. It’s a harsh wish.
I felt the wish a day or two after we had gotten off the boat, after we had cleaned our clothes and ourselves, after I stopped feeling the constant motion of water underneath me. I didn’t want to be in stuffy overheated rooms. I wanted to be out in the open air. I started running in the mornings down long country roads that ended at the lake. It might sound like a cliché, but the running did clear my head.
Back in LA, I still feel that wish, that longing, and I wonder, is it nostalgia? They say nostalgia is a sign of depression? Have I finally succumbed to the family curse? Am I just having some post-vacation blues? Back in the LA hot, I actually miss the cold, the mist, the rain. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Is it my writer’s brain putting me back on the river so that I can put words down on the page? Why that place and not another place? I’ve been on other rivers. When I lived in New York, I use to go down to the Hudson River and look out at the water flowing by to calm my urban brain.
This trip, I stumbled and fell a lot. I was klutzy and clumsy. I didn’t move with grace and elegance. I fell on the boat. I fell down some stairs. I still have the bruises to prove it, but in all my stumbling, I found I could handle it. I could get back up again and again. All right then, yeah, I did okay. No, I did amazing.
Why this trip? I had been to Ireland before, but I had never seen this much of Ireland before. I had been on boats before. I had been camping before. All before. Before what exactly? Was there something in the little moments, moments too quick to write down, something. . . .
Let it go. That was my mantra on the tip. Let it go. I gotta move on. I have so much stuff to write. I gotta get off the river and do it.
But the water in the river keeps flowing and Joni keeps singing in my head, and I wonder if I will ever get back that very big part of me that didn’t make it onto the plane, that’s flowing on the river.
So if you’re ever boating on the Shannon River and you see a bunch of human guts floating by, just leave them in the water because those are my guts, and they are right where they should be.