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Fern Canyon

After a season of leading wilderness canoe adventures in Northern Ontario at the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School, three colleagues and myself embarked on a journey to southern Texas to embark on a ten day canoe journey along the Rio Grande River which, on the stretch we'd be paddling, was the border between Mexico and The U.S.A.    On one day, we pulled up on the Mexican side and embarked on an adventure...

On the Mexican side of the Rio Grande river, carved out by millions of years of erosion lay Fern Canyon. The narrow walls climbing skyward called us to explore, play and rediscover the secret of youth that is often so close but out of reach by many living their adult lives and roles. We pulled our canoes on to the muddy river bank, leaving the familiarity of the water behind. We walked, jumped, and climbed arriving at a technical obstacle. If we had a rope, we would have used it for security.


We carried just our clothes on our back and our past experience. There was a circular hole in the rock through which one had to climb relying on a few very small hand and footholds. A misplaced hand or foot could easily lead to a six to ten foot fall resulting in a sprain or break. It was a tricky move on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in this spectacular place called Fern Canyon.


Steve was very keen to find a way through this technical obstacle. However, I felt like playing it safe, being content with our journey and letting what lay beyond be as it is. Shelley came next and like Steve, was very eager and with his help made it over this risky obstacle. Steve went next. Reaching their hands toward me, they both tried

to convince me to come through the hole. Finally, realizing my reluctance, they headed off deeper into the canyon.


I slowly sat down on the circular rock enjoying the smoothness of the rock, the pure air and the stillness that surrounded me. But as I sat, the fading sounds of Shelley and Steve, bouncing off the canyon walls engulfed me and merged with a voice deep within me. It was a voice of play, adventure and risk. A voice that I heard almost every day so many years ago.


I stood up, briefly studied the obstacle and by balancing on two footholds, pulled myself up. Steve and Shelley were not too far ahead climbing over another barrier, wading in a pool, using a log to emerge farther into the canyon. As we continued deeper, we played more, laughed, sang, and joked.


Was the playground of Kindergarten that far away? To us it seemed like only yesterday. At each corner, we wanted to see the next. It was as if we were being pulled down through time to be reminded of those days when we saw everything as if for the first time.


Soon, visible between the hundred foot cliffs, the thin patch of blue sky darkened. We reluctantly turned around. But on our return, we passed more easily through the obstacle. It was easier going back, more familiar. We saw everything from the other side, a new angle. We had a new perspective.

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