The River Gods

((Recommendations are that a blog should be a quick read, 500 or so words. This one is 2500 (or so). I went in; edited, rewrote and extracted. Which led me to 2500 (or so) words. I decided to let it be.))



Six sleeping bags.

The second weekend of June my friend Art likes to take his raft down the Yampa River near Steamboat, Colorado. Picture Art like this: old guy drawing I found on the web. This year, my husband (Bobby) and I were thrilled to be invited. I would ride with Art and his wife, Jackie, while Bobby planned to use his one-man pontoon boat. Bobby and I would sleep in the tent I found at a garage sale. (To all our old tents, RIP.) We found six sleeping bags in our basement, including my daughter’s pink one from when she was ten. Bobby bought a blow-up mattress, which was genius.

I was simultaneously excited and scared. The river! Oh, how my heart loves water, especially fresh, clear water. I’ve got river-rat blood; but my blood is used to Missouri water which is a little warmer than mountain run-off. And by a little I mean twenty or so degrees. So every summer, when my uncles dumped our canoe (yes, on purpose) into the Current River in Missouri, my sister and I laughed. I grew up canoeing and just last year discovered kayaking. What are all these people doing in canoes? Kayaks won’t hold a big cooler, but they are so easy to maneuver. I heart kayaks. As of last year. So what scared me about being on the river, in Colorado, in June? The weather! The last night could be as low as thirty-seven degrees.

Garage sale tent, borrowed chair.

Garage sale tent, borrowed chair.

(THIRTY-SEVEN degrees in a GARAGE-sale-tent…?)

Bobby and I have camped many times and mostly not at campgrounds. This time we would be at Yampa River State Park. Which is nice, but I kept thinking: I am too old for this, too smart for this, too whatever, I am not sleeping in a tent in freezing cold weather. I’m not! “Oh, it will be alright,” Bobby told me. Yet something in me was very worried about Rocky Mountains, down-to-your bones, there’s-still-snow-on-the-ground, cold weather. In a tent.

The first night got down to fifty, it was darn cold but I snuggled into a cozy bed of five sleeping bags and a warm husband. And wool socks.

Art was anxious to get on the river the next morning. We made it to our launch spot about nine or so. When you raft, you need a car at the place you get out. So unless you have contracted a rafting company, which we had not, someone has to get a vehicle there. That means driving for two cars and waiting for two people to return in one car. The extra time gave me a moment to meditate. I grounded, connected with Gaia and the trees. I felt the sky and the birds. It was very peaceful. Then the guys returned and it was go time. That was when I learned that we had to wade across the river to a gravel bar. My first step made every muscle in my body yell, “GO BACK!” It was cold; colder than I expected and colder than I could handle. But it was early; it could only get warmer, right?

We launched into a fast current; I was told it was about seven miles per hour. (Seemed like thirty…) What seemed to be a sweet, rolling river was now a force of Mother Nature under a rubber boat commanded by my friend Art. I loved it. Bobby fought the current in his pontoon and our friend Brock rode in his kayak. Michael & Baiba rode in their kayak. We were seven total.

When we stopped for lunch, Art told me to use the rope in front and step out to pull us in. I gathered the heavy rope and lifted my leg over the big

Muskrat Wisdom includes adaptability, ability to swim through emotional waters to return home.

Muskrat Wisdom includes adaptability, ability to swim through emotional waters to return home.

round edge of the raft, when we where near the shore I began to step, but there was no shore under my foot. I went over the side and gave everyone a good laugh when I went under. The water was still cold. I mean cold. My life jacket popped me up quickly and I was able to get the raft onto shore. (…when I found it!) The sun was out and I dried out a bit while we lounged on a gravely bank. As we ate lunch the funniest little animal came to the shore. It was a young muskrat. (Too bad I didn’t have Steven Farmer’s book Animal Spirits with me…)

We launched again and just a little bit down the river, we saw herons roosting in nests. There were more than seven nests in tall dead trees along the shore; I could see young herons bickering about something while a serene blue heron looked out over the water. We saw a large dark bird that might have been a cormorant. There were two young bald eagles, a golden eagle and swallows flying everywhere. The trip lasted until 3pm and we all enjoyed a wonderful day.

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Herons (pic by Baiba Lennard)

After seeing birds, deer and one muskrat, I really wanted to get out on a kayak so I could get closer to the shore. Brock offered to let me paddle the next day, and I accepted.

Here is where the story gets metaphysical.

That night the temperature went just below fifty degrees. Again, we were cozy. Although in the morning Jackie and Baiba each had a migraine. And that was when I received one of those shoulder taps from Spirit. It’s like a silent, “Hey, Holly, it’s time to do some work”. So I stopped to listen for a moment; immediately I knew that I could help with the migraines. I decided to offer… if the chance arose, if it felt appropriate. Did I mention that these people are not necessarily my spiritual friends? They are perfectly wonderful people, but we were gathered because our husbands are pals, the women went along for fun. I think each one of them has some idea of what I do, but what is “some idea” compared to “I can help your migraine”? I admit it, I was reluctant. I always am when it comes to volunteering in that way. So I busied my reluctant self with preparing for floating and when a moment opened, I told Baiba that if her migraine didn’t clear up, I could help. She said okay. OKAY! But we would have to make time at the river. Instinctively, I grabbed my peppermint oil.

Since something in me knew that I could help Baiba, and because of the spiritual message, I also knew that it was supposed to happen, I could feel it. We got to the river and unloaded. Luckily, Jackie felt better. The drivers took off and after a bit, I offered to help Baiba. She was grateful, as her headache had not improved. She grabbed a couple of boat cushions so she could lie down on her back; silently I set space for some work. I put peppermint oil at the base of her head where I sensed muscle tension, so she leaned into my hands. I massaged and Baiba relaxed. I was careful and told her I didn’t want to create any further tension since I was not a massage therapist. I prayed for guidance and healing, I used Ho’oponopono to clear energy. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes and likely less, but Baiba felt better. More floaters were coming and we had to move, so I released sacred space (again silently), Baiba thanked me and we returned to preparing for a day on the water. Within five minutes, I had a headache.IMG_8540

I put peppermint oil on my neck and temples. I walked away from the crowd and prayed for help. Healers shouldn’t pick up what they heal, and I know that. But sometimes we will take things and release them because it is the only way. If I were at home, in my barn, I would lie down or paint. I would meditate and clear. But what could I do at the Yampa River just before a kayak ride? That was when I realized that this was a little more complicated than I thought.

As I prayed for help, the pain intensified. Not what I expected. I asked for help and I saw that the energy was to be released by a soul group, not just me. Wait a minute, what soul group? They showed me the people I was camping with. A soul group? Not just random campers with coolers full of beer? What was happening and why was I doing the releasing? I decided to walk more, off by myself where maybe I could clear this… this energy thing. It wasn’t working. Then the drivers were back and it was time to get on the water. Meanwhile, three other rafts were also on the ramp, airing up and ready for us to move. Art took off and I was next. I got into the kayak, and before I could settle into the seat the current pulled the boat hard. I grabbed my paddle and dug in for a big push into the moving water. Unfortunately, I tipped. I went under and, again, the life vest popped me up quickly. The water temperature shocked me, it was cold enough that I had no voice to whoop or holler, I grabbed the kayak and somehow held the paddle as the Yampa pulled me. I swam, kicked hard toward the shore. Adrenaline kicked in and I had strength. Wanting to pull myself into the kayak, I hoisted the paddle on top and grabbed for something, but there wasn’t anything. So I kicked harder to get to the side of the river.

Bobby paddling, see the eroded shore line?

Bobby paddling, see the eroded shore line?

The Yampa is strange in that the shore line changes each year. Snow fall settles into the ground and makes it soft. Erosion shifts the river’s edge and uproots trees. So as I kicked hard toward shallow water, I found none. I was up against a four foot bank of mud, bouncing against it and being carried downriver fast.

What I didn’t know is that everyone went into action. Michael and Baiba launched and chased me, cutting me off when I finally found a small tree root to wedge myself against. I was stopped, but the muddy bank loomed over me, so I remained in the cold water. Then a man showed up above, he had to lie down on the ground and reach for me, pulling me nearer to the bank, but not upon it. I tried to pull myself up but shock was setting in and my strength waned. So I leaned against mud and roots with my Chacos sunk deep into loose sludge. I recognized shock, and even told my friends I needed a moment, as my body shook. Everyone said to breathe. Be still. Wait. And then I heard my guides. They spoke plainly, calmly. The told me that the pain was released, that the soul family was free. Whatever the energy was that Jackie and Baiba had felt; the energy that I had released and taken into my own body was removed by the mighty Yampa. Every cell of my body felt relief and surrender, something was over.

Bobby came, just behind the other man and I told him, “I’m okay, I’m okay.” He looked scared, I was lost and found. Gone and then back. When my body stopped shaking, I felt fine. I knew adrenaline was keeping me warm and that I should get out of the water to get dry. I thanked the man. I asked his name. He said Bob Burgerson. What? He stood next to my husband, Bobby Burger. What are the chances?


Holly Burger, paddling the Yampa.

I got back into the kayak. I settled properly into the seat and surprised everyone by shoving off into the Yampa River like I didn’t just take an accidental swim in fifty-six degree water. (I looked it up, fifty-six degrees!) To be honest, I don’t know how I managed to focus on paddling instead of freezing. For a week prior I worried about being cold. I detest cold water, the day before I didn’t want to walk in it. But right then, in that moment, I paddled and I prayed. Under me I sensed the strength of water, the strength of her, the Yampa.

Meanwhile, my Bobby went back to launch his pontoon. At the ramp, a woman said, “You know why that happened, don’t you?”

Bobby replied, “No, why?”

“Because you forgot to make an offering to the river Gods,” she told him. From a small bottle of schnapps, she poured a little into the river, took a sip and handed it to Bobby. He took a drink then quickly took off wanting to keep an eye on me. You see, Bobby expected me to bail. In fact, later he said that if he tipped over and was soaked to the bones, he would have gone back to camp. But I never thought of that. It didn’t occur to me to quit, surrender or leave. I wanted sun, water and wildlife. I wanted what the Yampa could offer me and I knew that I could have it. It was right there, waiting.

I am not saying that the fear went away, or that some super power negated the effects of shock. I paddled carefully, cautiously and stayed near my friends. I tightened my life vest and watched the current, paying special attention to “her”. About ninety minutes later, my hands were cramping and I started feeling shaky. The sky was cloudy and our warm day had gone. My clothes were still wet so I asked if we could pull over, I had a dry jacket in Art’s boat. It took the last of my strength to get the kayak ashore, and Bobby had to run to help me. Once changed, the shaking really set in, so I spent the rest of the trip at my former post, watching for debris and wildlife from the front of Art’s raft. Bobby insisted that we switch life jackets, as his was warm. I had to laugh at my sweet husband with a pink strap stretched tightly across his chest. It was the top strap and the lower ones had no chance of meeting. He looked like a man in a child’s vest. Art joked that it would never keep him afloat.

I prayed to the sylphs and Mother Gaia to keep the rain away. I was too cold, I shivered. Dark clouds drifted over head, there were sprinkles, wind and we thought sure it would rain. But it didn’t.


MATCHES, people, just matches. And wood. And paper.

Later I built a campfire, without fossil fuel. This astonished the men in our group, but not the women. We were warm, we shared food and wine. I went to my tent-bed early knowing that something healed in all of us, my extended soul family. I listened to laughter and jokes and stories as the last campers to leave the fire shared with each other. I thought of how we are all connected, how Spirit won’t let me forget who I am and how each of us connects with everything. I thought of what a privilege it is to float upon a river, to swim, to fall into her and be baptized with cold and warmth at the same time; and I was grateful. What I will always remember (what I forgot to do when I meditated in reverence to almost everything) is to commune with the water, to honor the River Gods and pay homage. I thank the elements of our planet, and deeply appreciate how they work with us and for us. I vow to understand the elements better, to express my gratitude and to listen to my soul, even if it means waiting before I get into a kayak, on a river.




PS:  These are actual true events that happened on June 13 & 14, 2014. The names of the campers are not changed, not even Art, who was our captain. If Art ever reads this I will say, “Just ask William Bill, next time you are at Swallow Cliff, right before Swallow Hill, across from the debris I didn’t see, just before twenty bald eagles, four beavers and two elk. Let’s go swimming Art, you first next time.”


Baiba and I celebrate after my swim.


Bobby, Brock and Michael. At my house, after the trip. (They love posing.)

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Baiba took this of me laughing.


Me and Jackie after the first day.


Bobby Burger, on the Yampa.

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Another pic of Bobby, my happy man!


With a few exceptions, credit for pics goes to Baiba Lennard. Website coming soon!


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