April 08, 2010

A Little South of Dixie

I spent the summer of 1972 as a whitewater river guide on Idaho’s Salmon River – the fabled River of No Return. We escorted our guests and clients through high-water rapids in one-man fiberglass kayaks. We would work in pairs, so that when one of our guests went overboard, one would chase the person and tow him to safety while the other would go after the wayward boat and pull it through the whitewater to shore. We would then regroup, wring out and get back in. Our guests left the trip with a lifetime of wonderful memories. Seldom was there a dull moment – though there were frustrating ones from time to time. For instance I once pulled a woman out of a whirlpool eddy that was strong enough to suck off her canvas sneakers. I felt lucky to have been able to pull her to safety through some tricky currents without going under myself. When we reached the shore, she offered no word of thanks, just a demand that I go back in and retrieve her shoes. Well, I didn’t and she was an unhappy camper from then on.

The Salmon River gets under your skin. This is the river that detoured Lewis and Clark. This is the river that cuts through a series of mountainous canyons so rocky and so steep that there are no parallel roads for most of its length. This is the river of incredible perseverance and power as it carves its way to finally join the Snake, the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. It is a metaphor to me about overcoming the day-to-day struggles of life. Although it has been quite some years since I last dried out from its waters, it still has a hold on me in my quiet moments. I can almost hear at times the crash and roar of Pine Creek rapids as the waters push on to the sea. I can almost feel at times the wet sand of the river bottom between my toes as I turn my face to the west in the late afternoon sun. My mind’s eye can still see the glance of sunlight on the greenish black water capped with white. The call of the river is a call to arms – to overcome and defeat whatever obstacles are placed in your way. The reward at the end of the course more than warrants the struggle.

In this poem, Dixie is a small hamlet in central Idaho deep in the heart of the Salmon River mountains. The photo is of road's end at Shoup. This is the second poem I have written about the Salmon River. The first was Back to the River of No Return.

A Little South of Dixie
by Paul Kern

A little south of Dixie,
There’s a river flowing west,
With hoary foam and white caps,
Dripping from her breast.

It’s takes a lot of river,
To forge a pathway to the sea,
Where no unhallowed human hand,
Has dammed her – she’s still free.

Through chiseled granite canyons,
That old river still flows west,
And my mind there often wanders,
To ride again upon her crest.

I used to cuss the current,
So wild and swift and free,
‘Til night dreams came a calling,
They are calling now to me.

Unhindered westward on she flows,
And casts her primal trance,
The unruly river is a lively gal,
That calls me forth to dance.

To dance a dance unhobbled,
Under starry western skies,
Where crashing waves through a precipice,
Give hope to weary eyes.

Through granite walls of stony glance,
And canyons of despair,
The river keeps on moving,
As she lashes at the air.

It takes a lot of river,
To forge onward to the sea,
Through dark and narrow wilderness,
She calls and beacons me.

And speaks of oceans,
Calm and wide that lap each foreign shore,
And tells the tale of victory,
Above the crashing roar.

A little south of Dixie,
There’s a river flowing west,
Her waters rage to a peaceful land,
And I shall ride upon her crest.

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