Getting away

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(HOST) Once again the news was grim this week, and commen- tator Willem Lange is looking forward to getting away to a place that feels far from the trouble.

(LANGE) It’s a cool evening, with a good sleeping night in the offing. I’ve read the newspapers and watched the news – bombings in England, nuclear weapons, torture of prisoners, arguments over gay unions and stem cell research. The impact of all these ham- mer blows is more than most of us can bear for long.

"It’s when I’m weary of considerations," writes Robert Frost, "and life is too much like a pathless wood where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it, and one eye is weeping from a twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile…"

And in just two weeks we will, to where there’s no way to get news. My friends and I will be paddling and camping on a great northern river. If it’s cold or windy, we’ll be talking to each other’s faces; if it’s warm, we’ll be talking through head nets while the flies and mosquitoes hurl themselves at our faces. If we camp at the foot of a rapid, there’ll be a sense of perils or hardship passed; if at the head of a rapid, there’ll be a restlessness to our rest.

A river has three aspects. At its near edge, it chuckles at the rocks; out in its middle, it roars and throws up white waves; far off, it fills the valley with a murmur that shrinks to insignificance the problems that occupy the rest of the world. Nothing concentrates the mind like knowing in the morning you and your partner will descend miles of rapids in open canoes full of equipment.

But those concerns are for another day. In the need to stick together, take care of each other and reach intact the river’s mouth, we function as one. The only authorities are the river and the weather. At the end, we leave them, unmarked, for the next group of friends seeking themselves and the profound delight of satisfying simple needs.

Mother has filled our sun porch with the makings of 60 meals for eight men. It’s her contribution to an experience she can’t other- wise share. She may not understand why we choose rain, cold and billions of bugs in what Jacques Cartier once called "the land God gave to Cain."

But all those fade to nothing when a trout as long as an arm suddenly engulfs a floating fly. There’s the fear of diving into a deep, frothy hole, and the exhilaration of rising, dripping and shouting, up the face of the wave beyond it. The ecstasy of a steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese studded with chunks of ham and chased with hot coffee.

I hope she knows how much we appreciate, from a thousand miles away, the part of our lives we could never leave behind.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I better get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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