When I hear someone say, “Time is like a river.” I sense the analogy is based in an idea that time is linear and so is a river. The more time I spend on earth and on rivers the less I see anything linear about either. I have never encountered a straight river, only sections that have been dammed or levied. I don’t believe that water simply flows past never to return again. Rather water is constantly returning. Rain does not only fall down from the sky; rain also falls up from the ground.
As for time, the only straight time I have encountered is waiting at stoplights, checkout lines or in doctors offices. Factory kinds of time. Concrete, manufactured, and marketed kinds of time. Time, like water moves in spirals, constantly leaving and returning. We all experience this when we tell or hear a story because the very nature of a story is to release us from linear time. Stories bring us into proximity with time that happens in taste, smell, allegory and feel. Time does not leave never to return. We live among time.
Last summer I spent a stretch of time bikerafting part of the Continental Divide with by friends Brett and Diana Davis. While I started the trip at the Canadian border and ended down the line in Idaho, along the way I did not move in a straight line. While I left people and places behind, I also picked things up, and returned to certain places more than once on the journey. I time traveled like a bendy wave through the storied rocks and the collective consciousness of mountainsides who were regrowing after fire. Paddling under a perched eagle I saw clouds on the water, reflected back at me in the pointed eyes that eagle.
On occasion I found myself drawn to water rushing around a rock, transfixed by their ability to fill in the voids. To effortlessly move in so many directions at once. To alter their shape without losing their form. I noticed time and again, that in whatever direction they need to move, water will always fill the containers that needs filling.
As I began to count down the days to the end of my trip, I sensed the encroachment and stuck nature of linear time. As compared to water so effortlessly adjusting in a moment’s notice, circling back to fill in the space behind a rock, as the rest of themselves continues downstream, I longed to embody a more expansive understanding of time and space myself.
Lingering in that longing, perched up above the Blackfoot river next to a gnarled cedar I remembered this is why I go to the water. To remember that everything moves in a circle, not a straight line. Again, and again, the time will come when I have to take myself out of the river, but I know with certainty there will never come a time when the river will have to be taken out of me.
About the author: Big Agnes ambassador Ben Weaver is a songwriter and poet who travels by bicycle. He uses his music as a tool to strengthen relationships between people and their local ecosystems. Ben has completed many wilderness music by bike tours, released nine studio albums and five books of poetry. Read Ben’s story.