West Virginia called.  This mountaineer country cut by rivers and big water. We pile into a camper and sway our way to this coal and timber state.  I manage to keep my car sickness at bay by keeping my eyes closed and by breathing deep.  My reading has to wait.  We see abandoned buildings, discarded and moss covered bricks positioned next to stick built houses, everything is littered with battered and worn hillbilly trailers that just seem to be haphazard and stuck in between.  Train tracks filled with CSX cars that are topped with coal line the mountain.

I am happy to tumble out to a non-moving campsite and sleep on a hard cot.  I wrap my children, for warmth, and a big sleeping bag around me.  The adults drink beer and lots of wine.  We chug down champagne like it’s moonshine (I put the corks in my jean pocket).  There is guitar music and the crackling of a campfire.  The night air is as cold as the showers are hot.  It’s camping one level up from sleeping under open stars.  I sleep in my clothes and they are seeped in the woodsy smell of our campfire.

I see how Twain fell in love with the river.  It has a life and culture all it’s own.  Bends and parts carry their own names.  The colors worn in springtime are a spectrum of greens that border on light yellows to deep and dark evergreens.      Slate grey and mud brown rocks pepper river banks.  Boulders, like knives, are stuck in the river’s heart, creating a gush of white foam that spurts and sprays in all directions.  The water heavy, turbulent and thick is filled with a stronger pulse which corrects itself and swirls back into the river’s vein.

At the river bar we hear confessions.  People who take a trip on this river and then become enamored with it  They sell everything they own, abandon college or other university dreams and  they are converted to this river life.   This West Virginia river is a drug.  It alters your mind.   This natural high becomes an addiction.

The river guides have all sorts of jokes about themselves.  They are happy to point out the “rippies” or hippies dressed in flannel at the bar or on their rafts.  Female river guides are hairier than a Sasquatch.  They tell the same old jokes: Q. How do you get 15 male river guides into a closet?  A. Tell them it’s a free place to sleep.  Q. How do you get 15 river guides out of a closet?  A.  Tell them it’s a shower.

We sign waivers.  We put on wet suits.  On the bus trip to the river we are warned and schooled.  People get caught up in rocks and water—they do actually drown.  They tell us what to do if we fall out. Ride on your back and hold up and out your toes.  Float on your stomach and swim.  They tell you how to sit, how to hold a river paddle, and how to place your feet.

This place has it’s own vocabulary of things and places: eddies, big water, Rudy’s Ripple, Flea Flicker, Surprise, T-grips, mixed with a north flowing river’s swirls and swells.  Our guide is a Dennis.  He has a wide smile with slanted teeth.

The rush when it comes in consumes you.  You are on the verge of falling off the face of the Earth and then find yourself dissolving into it.  The heart is left pounding and sweat cools a warm and palpitating body.  You need a few seconds to find your bearings and the rush is again and confronting you.  Waves of this natural high and pleasure are raw, real, exciting and true.

I send him words from my travels.  He is a salve on my open wounds.  I am lying in my cabin bed full of want.  I want more from this life.  I am here to take it.  I am more than curious.  I am imagining him in places in my mind I have not let anyone go.

This is almost better than any lover I could take into my bedroom.  I tell him this.

And he replies back:   Almost.