We went rafting Saturday. The guide explained life on the river, West Virginia style. There’s this creepy old guy named Eddy who hangs out beside the river. He’s usually found behind rocks and runs around in circles all day long. Pretty weird if you ask me, but I hear he has his reasons. As you float past, he invites you in. Says he wants to be in relationship or some new-agey BS like that. Sometimes he’s just friendly, even protective, coming to your aid in a time of crisis. Then there’s other times, when the relationship gets maybe a little too close, you could say even too intimate. He definitely has boundary issues. You say you want to leave but he just won’t let you go. Eddy has no preference for men or women. He’ll take all comers.

Then there’s his buddy Hy-Draulic, a lonesome Jewish guy (Hymie is his real name, they just call him “Hy” for short). He has a different orientation than Eddy, you could say. More into the vertical axis , if you get my drift. First he wants to bring you home to meet his Mama. Wants to get married on the first date. I love you and I want you to have and to hold, til death do us part, he says. Like Eddy, when you tell him you want to break up, he can get real aggressive. Abusers are like that, I’m told. He’s suffocatingly needy. They want to keep you all for themselves. They cut your other friends out of your life and isolate you. Besides that, he’s unfaithful! He’ll pick up anything that’ll stop to listen. I’d say it’s a WV thing, but I’ve met him on other rivers in other states, too.

Then there’s the wildlife. The guide explained that wood under water in the river is the evil octopus. It will pull you down by whatever means possible, whether straining you through branches like spaghetti in a colander or using an upstream-facing V-fork to trap a low-hanging foot. Whatever you do, stay away from the evil octopus. But wait, there’s more.

Branches that are above water promise safety from nasal flushes, head banging, shin scrapes and all the fun experiences to be had while swimming (so called) in whitewater. We don’t extract oxygen from water very well, so the thought of an unencumbered gulp of pure air can seem very attractive. But beware!  Their allure disappears when you realize that they’re covered in slippery river mud and algae that, when rehydrated by you, become slicker than a Georgia bridge in a freezing rain storm. The reality is that such wood is actually like monkeys on crack, wielding revving chainsaws waiting to feed you to the evil octopus.

To complete the picture, in cahoots with the monkeys and the octopus (I hear they get a percentage of the take), we have gorillas on bath salts with sledge hammers. What, you may ask, could that possibly be? What other seemingly benign presence could there be here in such a beautiful place as this river canyon? Tanagers sing their scratchy songs like robins with sore throats. Swifts and swallows dart and click just above the water’s surface. The nearly vertical canyon walls rise like the back of a living room sofa covered with a velvet plush throw of summer trees, arcing gently downriver like the corner piece of a sectional. The water is placid in the flat stretches; matter of fact and of singular purpose as it finds the path of least resistance in the channels between the boulders that are the bulwark for the rapids. Even in the midst of the tumult of the rapids there is a certain peace, a serenity. What could possibly go wrong in such a beautiful place? Please note that beauty is no guarantee of safety. Sometimes the velvet plush throw sheds a little nap, a tree, which bails down the canyon walls and prongs itself into the bottom of the river. Or maybe it stops just above the water, hang-dangling temptingly there. They will rip your face off (as gorillas, even when not on bath salts, have been known to do), and then set to work on your fingers with the sledge hammers in an all-out, frenzied effort to make you relinquish your slippery grip. They know that their success will make you drop to the monkeys on crack who will feed you to the evil octopus. They know that their success will be rewarded with a banana.

So said our raft guide, as knowledgeable and intellectual a fellow as ever paddled a raft.

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