Riding in a car on a dry road instead of paddling on a flooding river. A passenger, traveling at 70 mph instead of 5-6 mph. What a difference a couple of days make.
Wednesday we left Venice, Louisiana early in the morning, heading back to New Orleans by land instead of river. Hoping to spend more than just a few minutes exploring the way we did four days earlier, seeing more than just the St. Louis Cathedral, visiting the restroom, and eating a beignet. This time, however, I was dressed like and smelled like everyone else – I didn’t stand out. I was surprised by the mixed emotions I experienced as a result of blending in.
Not standing out was comfortable – I didn’t draw attention to myself. I don’t like to be the center of attention as a result of being different or odd. Especially when others don’t know my story. It seems once they know my story, their reaction to my appearance is less judgmental and more accepting. How often do I judge by appearance without the knowledge of someone’s story?
Not standing out was uncomfortable. I don’t want to return to being like everyone else. I don’t want to dress or act a certain way because everyone else acts and dresses that way. I don’t want to worry about being judged even when others don’t know my story.
Looking like everyone else is considered more attractive than looking different. Four days earlier, we had asked a couple of women if we were heading in the right direction to the restroom. Encountering these same women again, we asked if they remembered seeing us a few days ago. After prompting their memories, they recognized us. Upon recognizing us, they commented on how good we looked. We were now more acceptable. Hmmmm…..
Looking at the river from the shore instead of looking at the shore the river brought happy and sad tears to my eyes. Had it just been four days since we had paddled the waters below? I missed the water! I missed the feeling of freedom! I missed the simple lifestyle! I missed the quiet solitude! I wasn’t visiting the shore only to return to the river soon. The sad tears glistened in my eyes. On the other hand, the success of a journey that covered a year of planning and a little over three months of paddling was satisfying. We went from “We’re doing it!” To “We did it!” Tears of happiness!
Cafe Du Monde, the oldest coffee shop in the nation, was very busy. After enjoying our Chicory coffee and beignets, we knew why. Delicious! I didn’t know what chicory coffee or beignets were before this trip. (I learned so much as a result of this journey!) Chicory is the root of an endive pant, which is roasted and ground and added to coffee. Chicory softens the bitterness of the coffee and adds a slightly chocolate flavor. Beignets are deep-fried pastry with a lot of powdered sugar! (The floor of the restaurant was covered with white residue.) We have missed coffee!
After spending more time in New Orleans the long trip home began. Two eight-hour days of driving ahead of us. Driving versus paddling. The road versus the river. Civilization versus wilderness. So many differences.
When driving, there are many laws, potential wrong turns, and congested traffic. On the river, there very few boating laws. The river only flows one way, so there is no potential of making a wrong turn. The traffic is generally only congested in fleeting areas, which, considering the length of the Mississippi, are only a small percentage of the shoreline. (The miles from Baton Rouge to New Orleans are the exception to the rule.) Driving is definitely more stressful and dangerous than paddling the river.
When driving you are more at the mercy of man’s devices than natures devices. On the river the inverse is true. Nothing goes wrong in nature – it is what it is. Nature is natural. Nature also isn’t intrusive – it is a backdrop to everything else. There is so much beauty and peace there. On the other hand, the first billboards I encountered on the way home seemed to be an intrusion, obstructing the view of nature. Don’t even get me started on road construction and detours……
On the river, in the beginning of the trip, we were usually the only vehicle on the river. As we progressed down the Wabash River, occasionally, we came upon an occasional fishing boat, one kayak, and one canoe. We were basically the same size as these water vehicles. Soon after entering the Ohio River, we encountered a yacht, followed by tow boats. In our kayaks, we felt a little intimidated by these larger boats. We had adjusted to these by the time we entered the Mississippi River. Then the average load pushed by the barges increased from twenty to forty-two, causing another adjustment. The final change occurred at Baton Rouge – ocean-going ships, which made the tows look like matchbox cars. Can you imagine how small we were in comparison? We were so much smaller than the other vehicles on the river,we could barely be seen. On the road, even with the semis, most vehicles are relatively close in size, and all vehicles are easily seen.
My trip home accentuated the differences between the life I had left only a few days ago and the life I was returning to. Slow-paced versus fast-paced. Standing out versus not standing out. River versus road. Wilderness versus civilization. Peace versus chaos. Right now I prefer the wilderness and the river. But that isn’t where God has called me to live. What I need to do now is find a way to incorporate some of the slow-pace attitude and peace of the wilderness into my daily life and not continue to regret the fact that I am not still on the river. As John says, “Reflect not regret.”