Text By: Carmen Bowes
Photos By: Sam Taylor
Charles hands me the boat out of the back of the truck and we work together to get it inflated before Josh arrives. I am throwing big 14-inch bows on each part of his present. I look up and his car pulls in the gravel lot. I grab the list of people who contributed to the surprise and walk to him. I give him the list and grab his hand, we walk towards his presents and he says, “What is this?” with a funny smirk. I say, “This is your birthday present, we all worked together to get you your own boating gear!!” He says, “Dude, what??!!” He is smiling big and I can see that he is contemplating all the fun he will have.
The crowd cheers and we leave him to get comfy with his new vessel. We pump up boats and get gear organized and down to the river. We are doing the flat section of the Cheat near Parsons, WV. We are ready to launch.
I stand in the chilly water and hold the canoe as Sam steps in and sits down. I feel it shift under the new weight. Sam is nervous but grinning so huge. I am too. The sky is blue and bright with puffy clouds floating overhead. The water ripples under the front of the boat as we negotiate our sea legs.
I feel the drunk starting, it is warm and good. My body is light, the boat feels nice under it: floating. Sam is in front of me, he keeps turning around with the biggest smile on his face. The people I love are all around me. I can hear their voices, they are happy. Home. Unconditional.
The river here wanders. It splits into channels that wrap around islands. The rocks on the river bottom come up and grab the bottom of the canoe. We have to get out and lift it for a few feet.
Clouds float in front of the hot sun and give our thirsty skins a break. We all smell like sunscreen and wind. I put the paddle in the boat and let my hands rest. I slip them into the cool river and watch the current make swirls in the water behind them.
The trees have fresh buds on them. The branches stretch way out over the water. Small rock outcrops rise out of the murky, calm river and then plunge back in, turning the bank back into trees.
We float up on an old suspension bridge. Its parts hang heavy on the old cables and the piers stand proud above the river below. We go under it and watch it silhouetted by the bright sun. It is built of angles and manmade. Grand and not of this place.
There is no better view of these old Appalachians than from a boat. This I am sure. The water winds around them and you go with it. The hills rising out of the river fall gently into each other.
Boats are scattered in front of and behind us. They are filled with brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, moms, dads, and friends: these are people who have become these things over time. There are puppy dogs and hippies and there is so much love and there is a birthday and there are all of the good things.