I’D RATHER BE IN THE WOODS by Sarah Cartron

Chapter 1. My Lost Boys
  “It’s about the chase,” Lowside told me and I knew he was right. It’s as though we were all trying to find our place in the world, seeking our purpose in our unusual home on “The Hill”. The adrenaline of living freely had consumed us, as though nothing else mattered. We were chasing a mysterious climax, a high that moment where the universe aligns perfectly and you know exactly why you were put on this planet. This is why we had chosen this place, with its freedom to move at will as our symbolic home. We were experiencing life to the fullest.
 I’ve thought a lot in the last year about how the world works, while sitting on the Shenandoah riverbank and watching the current. I’ve realized that water takes the path of least resistance. If it comes across an obstacle, it moves around instead of trying to push through it. I see this mannerism in both myself, and many of my friends. Lowside caught me off guard when he said it, too. “We live like the flow of the water.” Yes. We’re always on the move. For now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This life chooses you. I’d had a conversation with The Amazon about it once; she told me, “I had dreams, but then I was introduced to whitewater.” This is a statement I have heard many times, including the tiny voice in my own head. Being a raft guide does something to you; it’s like you’re playing God. One mistake could result in a fatality. There is no guarantee that you will return, and the satisfaction you receive from overcoming Mother Nature is completely satisfying –immaculate, as we would say. 
In my adopted community on “The Hill” we worked hard and played even harder. We rose with the sun, and ran full force until the day was done. We had a general rule that lights went out at 3 a.m. However, more often than not, I remember getting to bed just before the sun began to show itself. It was an oddity for anyone to wake up completely sober. The drinking became essential to our daily lives. We lived off of coffee and granola bars because there was not a moment to sit down and eat. Life was always on the move. Living under these sorts of conditions is something you can take pride in during your twenties. My old roommate always said, “I would kill to be in my early twenties and abuse my body the way you river hippies do,” when I would tell him stories of my daily antics. We were a community that took pride in our recklessness. 

In retrospect, given my upbringing it makes sense that I chose “The Hill” to be my home and these people to be my family. Thanks to my free-spirited parents, I caught a case of wanderlust early on. As a kid, I disappeared for hours to the creek behind the backyard. I spent months studying the woman across the street that claimed to be a witch, hoping to learn all of her secrets.  I grew up listening to the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and Rush with my father. I was so excited when my aunts came back from California because they had followed the Grateful Dead around all summer, paying their way by selling grilled cheese sandwiches outside of the shows. They were real “Deadheads,” the real deal. I’d listened to their stories in awe.
Around the campfire on “The Hill” late one afternoon, I sat quietly with Doctor Safety, taking in the stillness of our habitat. The hums of nature filled the silence between us. He took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled, flicking the cherry towards me. “You know, it’s like we live in Neverland,” he commented. I nodded in agreement. It was true. Every single one of us on “The Hill” had a Lost Boy hidden inside, who yearned to escape the world beyond the river. This was the connection that had bonded the tribe. We were all reincarnations of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up.  

Maybe “The Hill” was my Neverland and these people were my Lost Boys. There were extraordinary characters that came together to create this place. There was Old Man River, who always stroked his beard before speaking –like a sage, really thinking everything out. There was Doctor Safety, who demanded to be the center of everyone’s attention, with grand and absurd stories that ended with ridiculous punch lines. And Lows¬¬ide, who walked the tightrope of life balancing between fearless and reckless choices; like the time he ran his first Class-V river without even knowing how to roll his kayak. There was also Mr. Kitty, who was still wet behind the ears, but didn’t know it. Last, but not least was my Man Candy, my partner in crime throughout this whole experience. And I guess you could say that I was their Tinker Bell – I always had their backs.

There was a joke we told the customers on the drive back to the shop after a raft trip: “What do you call a hippie without a girlfriend? ‘Homeless’” the guides would shout back. The guests would laugh, and we laughed with them, but we laughed because of the truth of the situation. If you tell hippies about a plot of land where they can live practically rent-free, they will come running. So thirty of us had migrated to the hills of West Virginia. We had thirty wooden platforms behind the outfitter. Each plot clad with a yellow-shafted, blue-bladed paddle with a number, a kind of hippie address. The view down and out the back window of my tent was of the heart of “The Hill”: the campfire. As the sun set, the laughs, screams and cries of thirty individuals would echo throughout the valley, proclaiming our nightly merrymaking.

{editor’s note: we at DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE are pleased to bring you Sarah’s work, which will run in a regular series every Wednesday morning. Tune in next week for the second installment!}
SARAH’S BLOG IS:
the website to the project itself  www.idratherbeinthewoods.com
and her personal website that is in the process of revamping www.sarahcartron.com
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