This river is my happy place. I come here alone to the Imnaha and am renewed in the high waters of June runoff. I’m renewed in a river that runs wild from the Eagle Cap Wilderness all the way to its confluence with the Snake River in Hells Canyon. I’m cleansed in the ice cold dip in a back eddy in a great river where salmon spawn, kingfishers reign, wolves howl, and elk merge with centuries-old ponderosa pines.
I’m camping inside my other happy place—this Alcyon pop-up on my green truck—set facing the river so I can peer out of my bed through the screens and imagine flying low like the spotted sandpipers that nest on the exposed rock islands.
What is it to feel renewal like the red osier dogwood awash in the whitewater coursing around its blood red limbs? Or the living, blooming, purple penstemon that twirl in ripply waters holding the flower like a vase?
Renewal in a happy place is a shedding of a shaggy winter coat I have no need for, a loosening limbs to mimic the bend of willows, a wiggling of bare toes, and opening every pore to the gifts surrounding me. Renewal feels light, freeing, and bird-like.
In these high waters, renewal feels like tears, too. Here, I can let them flow and the tears of loss for those I love who are gone wash away in the constancy of currents. In the company of ruby-crowned kinglets cheerily singing in the high spruce and yellow warbler revelry in the low cottonwoods, tears mingle with a chorus of gratitude.
In a wilderness river pawing over rocks, galloping around boulders, snorting over skeletal white driftwood, and cantering steady around a bend, I join the ride that is life. There’s no getting off this horse. I might tumble or refuse to climb back up, but the river gathers me up and once back in the saddle? I’ve got a fine view.
A day by the river in early June starts chilly with bird chatter and a river’s breathing. Sunlight tips the top of the forest ridge. I make coffee in the camper, a true luxury, and sip the elixir from a favorite ceramic mug of Stellar jay blue and mule deer brown etched with sun and peaks.
Step outside and a pair of mergansers give each other a playful snap of red bill greeting, and then the current shoos them away. Dew soaks the silky grasses. I hear the fast ring of a dipper call, the lazy chirrup of robins, and the warbler orchestra tuning up for the full greeting of sun upon my side of the river.
The day warms and life undulates in an easy rhythm of writing, wandering, musing and stretching. Swallowtail butterflies dance across my field of vision like fluttering zebra-striped flowers flung by an invisible hand. When the temperatures climb higher, I unroll the awning on the side of the camper and set up the outdoor office of a camp table and chair.
At the zenith of the day’s heat, I find the backwaters, wade to an island where a sandpiper flies up from a nest of three speckled egg, dainty and vulnerable upon the stones. I cross to another island where deep waters nudge me to take that headfirst plunge. Spluttering. Freezing. Tingling.
Midafternoon. A thunderstorm rolls in. Citadels of cumulus bear down from the high peaks.. Rain falls. Hail drums on the camper and awning, bounces on the river, and the world is one waterfall. Then, it’s gone. Quiet. Light returns. Mist softens all.
Evening marks the time for building a campfire of driftwood and fir limbs, opening up an IPA, fixing a simple salad dinner, and conversing with the birds, while dodging the occasional spark and waft of smoke. Mosquitoes bite. Dusk falls. Vaux’s swifts jet through the skies high overhead. A lone Swainson’s thrush skyward notes spiral in the night.
The next morning? I wake to another day, a continuum that’s never the same. I could stay here forever in my happy place in the arms of the river I love with a name that’s all lullaby and allure—Imnaha.