Three days off the grid

(John Andrews in the Denver Post, July 7) Three days without cell phones or email, TV or the Web. Three days without talk radio, iPods, or even this newspaper. That was how nine of us spent the final weekend of June, floating the Skagit River in Washington State. Was it great? You know the answer. Being off the grid of hurry and worry helped us renew a more elemental, timeless connection with each other and with life. We unplugged from the hectic and plugged into the soul-grid instead. What a trip, in every sense of the word.

The men in my family first indulged our Huck Finn fantasy ten years ago on the Current River in Missouri’s Ozarks. Our next float was in 1999 on the Colorado River west of Grand Junction. In 2002 the clan needed four canoes for a rainy trip down the Pine River near my Michigan birthplace. This year we headed northwest to entice our Keasey kin from Seattle (they came) and the Grossman guys from Portland (they couldn’t).

Washington and Oregon’s Cascade Mountains have a volcanic mystique that’s different from the Rockies. Mount Rainier stands sentinel over the Puget Sound metropolis. Southward is Mount St. Helens, which blew not long ago. Guarding the north flank is Mount Baker, its flat cone still snowclad even this close to Independence Day.

The Skagit rises east of Mount Baker, in British Columbia above three hydropower dams. From the head of navigation at Newhalem to the estuary at La Conner it’s 80 miles by whitewater raft and voyager canoe. Shane Turnbull, the owner of Chinook Expeditions, said our group was the first he’s ever guided the full distance. It required no prowess from us, only persistent paddling. Our reward was that magical time on the quiet river and off the grid.

My son Daniel, a Denver policeman, and my brother Jim, a lawyer in St. Louis, were the only 1996 trip veterans who could make it this time. Cousin George in Kansas, a previous regular, had obligations with his daughters. Cousin Marc from Virginia was a repeat from 2002, however. So was Jim’s teenage son Garner. Bob, married to my sister in Seattle, was along for the first time, as were their grown sons Ben and Jon.

Other people’s family chat is cloying, I know. You don’t need a midsummer “Christmas letter” in a column that usually looks at issues and ideas. Yet there IS a big idea here, transcending such details as why Carl and his boys couldn’t float with us (plugging into another soul-grid at Yosemite) or why the Turnbull brothers of Newhalem remain so bonded (Catholic parents, one-room schoolhouse). It’s the idea of true and false priorities, fool’s gold or the real thing.

Other things being equal, Bob would have conscientiously monitored the market on Friday for his clients, I’d have joined my pal Caldara for his Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms event on Saturday, Daniel might have responded with fellow officers to Sunday’s horrific Safeway shootings. Monday morning would have found Ben at his pharmaceutical job and me at a Defend Colorado Now meeting, rather than sipping campfire coffee at sunrise.

Other things were not equal, though. As on any weekend in the year, urgent pressures could have chained us – if we let them – to the daily grind, the grid. But we said: No, this errand in the wilderness matters more. Worthy as those workaday commitments may be, we eight (plus Shane, our ebullient guide) chose a different priority for June’s end: each other, the good earth, and Him who made it all.

So off the grid and onto the Skagit we went. Although the Indian pronunciation is like “agitate,” the balm you find is just the opposite, out there in the whispering current between the looming peaks. The agitated issues of 2006 count for a lot, and the self-evident truths of July 4 for even more. But it’s relationships with loved ones and peace of soul that count most. Take time for them this summer. Your reunion river is waiting; plug into it.