I wonder if we miss opportunities by hearing speeches only once. We go to plays multiple times (Shakespeare, anyone?), hear a second, third or hundredth performance of a song by a favorite artist, and make repeat visits to museums.
But when it comes to the spoken word, we only hear once.
Last month I broke that pattern by going on two different occasions to hear the “author talk” of Jo Deurbrouck, whose nonfiction book about two risk-taking river men won a National Outdoor Book Award in 2012. Even though her speech and slides were the same on both occasions, I was engrossed.
Her book, titled “Anything Worth Doing,” chronicles the adventures of two men who were obsessed with creating and achieving their own unique river goals, no matter how “crazy” or difficult.
In 1988 raft guides Jon Barker, 25, and Clancy Reece, 43, rowed from the “source to the sea,” 912 miles from eastern Idaho to the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington, including some 500 miles of flat water. Eight years later they joined up to speed-run the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho at ridiculously high water, and the older man perished.
Neither of their journeys were of Mt. Everest quality or texture. Neither became historic in the rafting community, except among people who knew the men. Thanks to Deurbrouck’s well-told tale, their journeys are now memorialized in print, but I’ll be surprised if anyone ever decides to repeat their adventures. Their choices were too obscure.
Deurbrouck’s talk encourages you to think about other adventures, especially your own. She offers her definition of adventure, which I wrote down. I admire its poetic phrasing, and I think it captures truth.
“An adventure is an experience or a journey, but most often a journey, that has at its heart a compelling story. That story has at its heart a goal and the goal must be challenging. The storyteller must commit. It’s not an adventure if you’re willing to quit when you get tired or if someone tells you you can’t do it.”
By that definition, the two men in her story had a grand adventure, although it won’t show up in National Geographic. I asked myself, “Have I had an adventure?”
I bopped around alone in Europe during college and traveled to Nigeria in my late 20s. Recently I went to Vietnam and Cambodia with my husband, although I don’t think a tour counts as adventure. I’ve gone on many whitewater kayak trips, but none compare to the kind of thing Barker and Reece did. I stay on water that someone of my skill level is always expected to survive.
Nevertheless, I view some of my trips as adventurous because, although they wouldn’t challenge a more experienced person, they did challenge me. This happens to other people, too. If you’re elderly, out-of-shape, inexperienced, or mentally-challenged a moderate adventure can become an amazing feat, and if the challenge is sufficient, the world watches, such as when Mark Wellman, a paraplegic, climbed El Capitan.
Towards the end of her talk, Deurbrouck, 50, turned to the topic of age, and stunned me when she suggested that one way of giving into age is to give up on adventure. She talked about her own plans to take up a new sport (sailing) and travel around the world with her husband.
Do I need a new adventure to carry me through old age, to make it fun, to make it purposeful? At this moment, I have no such plans. Maybe that’s why I went to hear the speech twice.
But listening a second time, I realized that by Deurbrouck’s definition, another of my adventures is still in progress.
The greatest adventure of my life, the one that meets her definition perfectly, the one where I truly stepped off the edge without knowing what would happen, where I totally committed, where I knew I’d never quit, is an adventure I share with most humans. I became a parent.
The parenting adventure unreels in glacial time. At any given moment, you don’t feel the risk. But it’s there, in a thousand ways. Will you do something that hurts your child? Will he make poor choices? Might he be stricken simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as happened at last week’s Boston marathon? Will you be a good parent to your child when he is 2? When he’s 16? When he’s 35?
The length of parenthood makes me think of the 912 miles Barker and Reece rowed to the sea, but parenthood is harder. At 456 miles, Barker and Reece knew they were halfway there. Not so with parenthood. All of sudden your child returns home. Or loses her job. Or needs you to care for a grandchild.
I imagine that as Barker and Reece traveled down rivers, most of the time it felt safe and certain — until it wasn’t. Then the adventure accelerates. Parenthood is like that, too.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org