Into the River

Into the River to Rejuvenate

During the dog days of July, I attended the four-day Wild Goose Festival at the Hot Springs Campground in Hot Springs, NC with Mary Ann, Tim, and Bill.

After a day spent walking in the heat from session to session, and sweating while I listened to thought leaders and attendees, it seemed like a wise and natural decision to step into the French Broad River. The river is considered to be the third oldest river in the world and runs along the campground.

Stepping into the river was a way to cool down, refresh, wash the sweat and weight of the day away, and to reflect about what I heard, learned, and experienced.

A Rush of Water

Water holds a strong pull on me. It is generally a space in which I can best and most easily reflect. From time to time, I believe it is important to get away from everyone and to experience nature alone. If I had gone to the river alone, I would have simply thought about the discussions of the day, listened to the rush of the water, and gazed upon the glorious view.

However, it can also be a meaningful and deep experience when shared with another. Each afternoon around 5:00 p.m., I stepped into the river with Mary Ann. The first day I needed a bit of prodding. (Too tired, don’t feel like putting my suit on, don’t feel like taking it off, it’s getting late, not enough time, what about supper, what about the main stage events…)

“But you love the water. You’ll be happy you went.”

It is often easy to find reasons to say “no”. Her words were the nudge I needed to move toward something very important to me and beneficial to my wellbeing.

We donned our suits and water shoes, grabbed our towels, and walked the short distance down to the river’s edge. Our side of the river was more sheltered from the current. The steady stream of water rolled over boulders mid-stream, around a small peninsula, and gurgled over and around rocks that allowed the water to collect along the shore in small pools. We carefully picked our way through water brown with silt, over slippery cobbles and sharp edged rocks, and through small streams to sit upon partially submerged flat rocks close to shore.

Washing off the day, we silently took in the beauty of the area. Green forested mountains towered over the river on the other side. On the third afternoon, a blue heron stood absolutely still on a rock down river near the opposite bank and gradually made it’s way to another rock and another and another, until it settled again on a rock mid-river, close to where we sat. Each day we watched rafters, kayakers, and tubers paddle and float by us. We listened to the sound of children playing in the shallow pools nearby, watched as hawks soared overhead.

Shared Experiences

We talked about the shared experiences of the day: the bits of writing we created in one session, the art we made in another. From where within us did the writing and art generate? What gave them breath? We talked about the pain experienced by those ostracized from their faith-based communities for doing what they believed was truly Christian. How could we make a difference in our own lives and in our world? Music? Writing? Art? Nature? We debated the pros and cons of some of the ideas we had heard each day, and talked about community, friendships, and relationships. We listened as each presented information from sessions we pursued on our own or with Tim and Bill or others who we had met during the day.

Stepping into the river each day cleansed us physically and mentally. It is little wonder that stepping into the river is symbolic of rebirth, a baptism into a new life. You don’t come out feeling the same as when you stepped in. Each day we were refreshed and reborn.

Get Inspired. Create.

How can you “step into the river” creatively? Access to water is often free. Any body of water—a bathtub, a pool, a pond, a lake, a river, or the ocean—can do the trick. Wade in, or sit along the edge. Breathe. Listen to what you hear. Take time to breathe in scents and sounds, and all that might be present in that place. Disengage by engaging. If you are outdoors, really look at the nature and wildlife, the leaf, the tree, the forest, the spider, the turtle, the fish, the blade of grass. Let go of your mind.

It was after these sessions that I felt more clarity about my beliefs, felt them more deeply—or let them go. I returned to the shore with more answers, and with more questions.

I did not often have time to write after our “time-outs”, but it set the stage for alignment of thoughts, ideas, and phrases in my head. The first afternoon I went to the river, it gave me time to reflect on the writing I had done earlier, the influence of the writing on the piece of art I created that day, and the deeper dive of what I tried to convey with that writing and with that art.


The Wild Goose (tagline: Spirit | Justice | Music | Art) self-defines as a “transformational experience grounded in faith-inspired social justice.” The festival encourages people to learn and grow by “co-creating art, music, story, theater, and spectacle, and by engaging in robust and respectful conversation with each other and with thought leaders and artists.” The Wild Goose symbolizes the beautiful and unpredictable spirit of the community they seek to build.


The French Broad River is considered to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, perhaps even the third oldest. It is 218 miles long and begins west of the Eastern Continental Divide, flows through Asheville, NC and spills into the Tennessee River in Knox County, TN.


When you are alone, visit any body of water, immerse yourself in the area, in the water if possible. Relax, take it all in.

If you step into the river with someone else, respect the silences as well as open the door to deeper communication and discussion. 

What do you see in this place? What do you experience? How does it make you feel?

What thoughts come to mind? If they inspire you, reflect more deeply on them. If they disturb you, recognize and honor that. You can always let them slip back into the river.