I lie on the gravel bar closest to my house under the hot autumn sun, letting the burning rocks sizzle against my skin. There is nothing but me and the wind and water, all one and the same. I listen to the river gurgle past me while watching the puffy, Toy Story clouds float across the vivid blue, prairie sky. Small eddies capture unsuspecting sunshine-colored leaves in their grasp; the river’s way of scrapbooking its own memories, desperately clinging on to the last rays of the season. All around, geese honk obnoxiously and bright, starburst orange leaves swirl and spiral downwards across my view. Nature has burst into life here at the river, and I am so utterly joyous from this beauty that a laugh escapes my lips. I am, without any shame or embarrassment, so in love with this place and the feeling that it gives me.
The Yellowstone River has always been my truest home. Now, when I say in the title that it’s the river that raised me, I’m not kidding. This river has watched me grow up and become the person I am today. It witnessed my first cross country race, my extravagant brushfort playdates and every AP Calculus meltdown I ever had. It got to see every birthday party, graduation party and BBQ that my family had on its shores, along with a couple of weddings. It inspired paintings, late night talks and questionable actions as well. It was the place where we took my dog for his last walk before he went to the vet, where I took my last moments in Montana before I moved to Brazil and the first place I went when I arrived home seven months later. Needless to say, the Yellowstone River is my ever-changing constant, my place of solitude, in a world that’s constantly buzzing, altering and growing. It does not matter what river mile I am at along its banks, every spot gives me the same childish excitement and emotion when I walk along it. The Yellowstone is one of those rivers that really speaks to you, deep in your heart, and reminds you to be fierce, compassionate and most importantly, yourself. Its swirling rapids call me back time and time again and welcome me like I’m actually home, regardless of my actual coordinates.
I think about all of the seasons this river has seen, and how many stories it could tell about its visitors and about its journey. The Yellowstone River is the kind of place that makes me nostalgic for days I have never lived; I think about all of the fond experiences my father has had here as he trapped and hunted along these same banks as a boy or about the memories my brother has from learning to fish on these open waters. Nothing quite makes me smile more than a reference to the Yellowstone River. With the mention of those two words and five syllables, I am immediately taken back to my “happy place,” my fondest childhood memories and my place of solitude. In a way that is different from most, the Yellowstone River makes me humble, not because of its strength and power, but from the way it makes me consider others by placing myself in their shoes and experiences. Near the river, I feel even more connected to the land and community around me. As it watched me grow up, the river that raised me has inspired me to go out into the world and be myself fully while being both genuine and boisterous, much like the river itself.