Reflections on a Meandering River

Last Saturday I finished guiding this year’s first Renewal in the Wilderness backpacking trip through the Paria Canyon. On day one we walked through the Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States (possibly the longest in the world). With authoritative walls that reach hundreds of feet above the trail, the Buckskin tightens in places to the point of brushing against both shoulders as we squeezed through the narrows one at a time. 

Our day in the slot canyon led us to the Paria River.  Our group — nine humans and two dogs — spent the remaining four days following the twists of the Paria River until it led us to the end of our hike where the muddy Paria meets the crisp blue of the Colorado.

At one point on the third day we paused for a few fistfuls of trail mix. We sat on a high bank looking over a broad bend in the river and Monica — who is a mom, a social worker and a trained geologist — described to us the narrative of a river’s life. Compelled by gravity, the consistent aquatic flow finds its way through the obstacles of earth. Time after time after time the water curves around deterrents and brushes by stone. This process of natural navigation gradually broadens the river’s bends, such that you can tell an old river from a young river by how often and how severely it twists and turns.

The wide meanders of the Paria River set the tone of our trek last week in a way that reflects the intentions that we at Renewal in the Wilderness bring with us into every experience we offer. Our founder and guide, John Lionberger, has established a culture of wilderness experiences that create space to encounter the obstacles in our lives with grace at a purposeful yet meandering pace. Compelled by the gravity of the world’s need for compassion, we approach wild places. At Renewal in the Wilderness we guide you with expertise through the hard stuff of the natural elements, that’s one of our commitments. Then we combine our commitment to wilderness expertise with our dedication to guiding experiences with spiritual substance.

Spirituality is a tough word to pin down with a definition. Probably because, much like the flow of a river, it is not static. For millennia people have used God-language to articulate the profound presence, the source of strength, the radical reality of their encounters of renewal in the wilderness. One of the things that John has taught me in guiding wilderness experiences of spiritual substance, is that we return to the wilderness time after time after time:

“Because our last experience of God is frequently the greatest obstacle to our next experience of God.”

The word ‘God’ may work well for you. Or it may not. Or perhaps the word’s effectiveness meanders back and forth for you. Each of those things is okay. The great thing about going to places of deep natural beauty is that they often leave us speechless, rendering our vocabulary not only insufficient but unnecessary to experience the intimacy of the encounter… time after time after time.

Aram Mitchell

Renewal in the Wilderness, 20 Roberts Street, Falmouth, ME, 04105