jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Twelve Years Married, the River of No Return

I wanted to write about our anniversary last week. Twelve years married feels like both an infinitesimal blip and a humongous undertaking. Twelve years! Four kids! Three moves! Woot, woot!

And so I wrote something silly about the amount of time we’ve been married, the years we’ve known each other, how long we lived in the same place and how I’m totally unclear on any number except twelve years (woot, woot…)

Tonight we watched a movie. In the midst of Phineas and Furb votes, requests for Spongebob (as if!) and pleas for Everest (always a horrifyingly possible death-filled option), my husband chose a PBS film, River of No Return.

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Watching River of No Return
July 2014

It’s a documentary about a 10 month journey through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. In it, Isaac Babcok, an Idaho wolf researcher of fifteen years, and his newlywed wife, Bjornen, hike and camp in search of elusive wolves.

The movie felt incredibly short in some ways, long in others, and the pair filmed a variety of wildlife while they were out there. Dipper birds dove easily in deadly rapids in search of bugs; playful otter sunned themselves on rocky ledges and then later dried themselves on crusted snow. We saw salmon first swimming upriver in heady excitement, all new and glistening, and then later returning to spawn, literally shredded by the effort it took for them to return to make new life. An injured elk destined for certain death at the mercy of a pack of wolves is unexpectedly saved when a sister elk comes to stand by her side, fending off the wolves through the night.

As we sat on the couch, my husband and I separated by four snuggling, squirming bodies, we occasionally glanced over at each other. Bjornen, the wolf researcher’s wife, was lagging behind, her gate was clumsy, her stiff-legged pace not nearly what was required as they mostly bushwhacked through overgrown trails.

Eventually it was disclosed that she had just been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and thus, this became a fourth presence on their journey: him, her, the wilderness, the pain.

Afterwards, after the kids were tucked into bed and the Bobbsey Twins chapter read, I stood in the shower and thought about the movie.

The play of the otters, the tenacity of the dipper, the sheer force of will of those salmon, the unflinching stance of the sister elk, and of course, the stark beauty of those wolves against the backdrop of mundane trails, breathtaking mountains, and the River of No Return, well, that’s as fine a metaphor for twelve years of marriage as I could possibly conjure.

Near the end of the film Isaac sat alone with the camera talking about Bjornen and the amount of pain she was in. Clips of her walking lock-kneed along the trail with her huge pack were interspersed with his monologue. She couldn’t sleep, could barely walk, needed help putting on her boots and standing. He got the chokey voice as he talked about this. You just knew this was nothing like the journey he’d imagined.

Tim reached across the back of the couch and took my hand.

Stage whisper: “Mama. What’s happening ‘dere? What does he mean?”

“They’re only 10 months into their journey, Buggy. Their dream was 12 months. But the brave Mama, she’s sick and in so much pain.”

“Mama? Why do you have the chokey voice?”

“Because it’s sad. Because it’s true.”

And so the two leave the wilderness. Two months early.

The movie ends with them heading away in a mail carrier plane, Bjornen staring out the window at the gorgeous river, the infinite life, the exhausting journey below.

What could a seven-year-old, two five-year-olds and a four-year-old have possibly taken from this movie?

Maybe they learned that real wilderness still exists in the lower 48, or real people can go to these places, that animals sometimes behave like humans, that beautiful things are challenging, that dreams are still transformative even when you alter them. Maybe they even learned that child-bearing is an exhaustively tattering swim upstream, that friends stick together to ward off wolves in the night, that mother birds will cram fallen pre-fledglings full of food in order to give them a fighting chance of survival (it was a dipper bird thing.)

No. I’m not so sure they learned all that much about wolves, but perhaps it affirmed something they’d already had an inkling of about marriage.

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Trying to get an anniversary photo
July 2014

Marriage is majestic and mundane, gorgeous and messy, it perseveres and adjusts, it’s sometimes painful and hopefully playful.

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Really? Both your parents are artists and none of you can take a good anniversary photo?!
July 2014

Fifteen years together. Or maybe sixteen. Fifteen? Let’s say we’ve been together for fifteen years. Whatever. It’s twelve years married. That I can guarantee.

Twelve years married, and it’s the hand held during the sad part of the movie, the schlep through the wilderness, the moments that are bigger than the both of us, the minutia.

It is the river of no return.

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That’s it. You’re done with the photos.
July 2014

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Happy anniversary, us.
July 2014

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26 comments on “Twelve Years Married, the River of No Return

  1. Burns the Fire
    July 13, 2014

    Happy healthy hairy hearty whole anniversary! And oh so many more. xxoo

    • jgroeber
      July 14, 2014

      Ah, thank you! It’s definitely getting heartier, and hairier, come to think of it. 😉

  2. Margie S
    July 13, 2014

    Happy Anniversary! Cheers to many more metaphorical years!

    • jgroeber
      July 14, 2014

      Metaphorical, lyrical and comical, but never typical. (Thank you!)

  3. Amy Reese
    July 13, 2014

    Such a beautiful post, Jen! I can’t think of better metaphor for marriage than the movie either. It’s perfect! And you did get a photo together. Happy Anniversary! Congrats on twelve years.

    • jgroeber
      July 14, 2014

      Thank you! It’s such a lovely movie. On our actual anniversary we watched the movie Run and Jump and we both cried. That was a pretty amazing movie about love and family and marriage, too.

  4. donofalltrades
    July 13, 2014

    I always thought it was more of an ocean I’m drowning in, amirite guys??!! *crickets? Lol, anyway, whatever. I kid. What a lovely post again. My wife and I will have been married 12 years come September, so how about that? We’ve been together since ’96, whatever that math equals. Happy anniversary, belated!!

    • jgroeber
      July 14, 2014

      Ha! Twelve years. I’m telling you, it needs a woot, woot! (So woot, woot.) And since 96? We call that yeoman’s work. Or at least that’s what Merriam’s Webster Dictionary would call it. You, go! Happy pre-anniversary yourself!

  5. sbhansen2014
    July 13, 2014

    Loved that movie. Love your analogy. Happy anniversary! 🙂

    • jgroeber
      July 14, 2014

      Did you see the movie? Wasn’t it an awesome surprise?! Really not what I expected. And the wilderness might always be a good metaphor for marriage… Ha!

      • sbhansen2014
        July 14, 2014

        Well, I guess it was more of a documentary than a movie ;), but yes! I loved it. It stayed in my mind for a few days, which is always an indication of a thinker. Let’s see…wilderness/marriage metaphor. I’m thinking vast, open voids? Rough uphill climbs? Punctuated, of course, by moments of beauty. 😉 Having kids? What movie would that be? Attack of the killer tomatoes? Hahaha!

  6. Anna Spanos
    July 15, 2014

    My husband and I had our fifth anniversary last month and I’ve been trying so poorly to write about it that I never get much beyond the few phrases in my head – phrases that in any other context or about any other subject would inevitably lead to a post or a chapter or a random rambling ne’er to be published essay. But there’s something about marriage, isn’t there? So beautiful and so messy, so much work and yet so worthwhile, and of course none of these ever end up being a strict balance, or even a clear winner. Congratulations on another beautiful post, and on 12 years!

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Congratulations yourself! Seriously, marriage is a workout. Thank god I like working out.
      And yes, it’s so hard to write about. There are a few subjects for me that just creep and squirm around around in my psyche but just can’t make it to a full realized essay of any sort; religion, a few losses, hard decisions. Maybe someday we’ll find the peace and peace of mind to construct it. Until then, more nature movies and toasting anniversaries. Cheers!

  7. Jenn Berney
    July 16, 2014

    I want to see that movie now. (Yeah…maybe that will happen. I’ve had *The Stories We Tell*, borrowed via Netflix, gathering dust on my shelf for literally months.) I was so interested in what you wrote about your children engaging with that film. As a child, I watched whatever my parents watched, and I always think of it as a great favor they did for me–giving me a kind of window into the adult world.

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      I love/hate screen time. We had a television on 24/7, literally, for my severely retarded/autistic brother. It was the background to every single dinner and family occurrence. And so we watched it all. I hate that, and the darkness in my belly when the tv is on too long or the kids are watching numb and mindless. But when we find something that’s interesting and that teaches one thing new or is a work of art- Everest, National Geographic, Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmer… Our kids love it. My husband watches Shark Tank with our 7-year-old, which is a bizarre education. But we’re into it. Definitely check out National Geo movies.

  8. Shakti Ghosal
    July 17, 2014

    Writing a post such as this does bring in elements of positivity and resolve into our lives, does it not?

    Great pictures of your anniversary and wish you another twelve years of great togetherness.

    Shakti

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Thank you. And yes, writing often turns something I’m feeling unsure or conflicted about into something peaceful and calming. It’s a lovely thing. Thank you for the good wishes.

  9. Kelly L McKenzie
    July 17, 2014

    How have I not heard of this movie before? I know I’ll watch it and should the need to talk arise I shall do so with a choky voice as well. Happy, Happy Anniversary! Here’s to dozens and dozens more.

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Thanks for the well wishes! Cheers to married people everywhere, climbing uphill and marveling at the view.

  10. bethteliho
    July 17, 2014

    Aw, this was touching and sweet! And I love your anniversary photos…those are the best kind. Happy Anniversary!! We celebrate our 13 next month. I love your little quote at the end about marriage. So very true. I loved this.

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Happy anniversary yourself!! Yay, us. Keeping the dream alive. 🙂

  11. kittery
    July 17, 2014

    Happy Anniversary! I’m two years in, and I think you’re right, twelve definitely deserves a “woot, woot!”
    Also, the little people that have appeared in those twelve years – super cute. 🙂

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Ah, thanks for the compliments on our wee folks. It’s one of our proudest accomplishments. 🙂 And I toast your two years. Two seems like both yesterday and an eternity ago. In a good way.

  12. fatimaqureshi
    July 19, 2014

    Such a beautiful post. 🙂 I wish you a lifetime of great togetherness.

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Thank you for your kind words and good wishes.

  13. Pingback: Twins putting themselves to bed - Choose My Room

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