A honeymoon trip down the Mississippi 

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click to enlarge SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Mundells don't know what the moral of the story is.

When their trip ends they don't even realize it. It isn't the climactic storybook ending they envisioned, a cinematic finale to share with their friends: their canoe bursting triumphant into the Gulf of Mexico, their hair streaming in the wind and ocean spray. They were planning to stop when they reach salt water, but they are just outside of New Orleans in a town called St. Bernard, when they literally hit a wall. There is a small opening where boats can go through, but one of the supervisors of the construction strongly advises them not to, due to dangerous currents. They aren't exactly prepared for it, but there it is: the end. "I wasn't ready," Andy says. "You know when you're watching a movie and the credits just roll? There was too much that all came together: There's literally a giant wall in front of us. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is telling me we shouldn't go. The water tastes salty. OK."

"We did it," Lyndsey says. "Then we're like, 'yay!' It was shocking."

They store their canoe, check into a Holiday Inn, shower, sleep in a bed, and enjoy the July Fourth weekend in New Orleans.


"You can only imagine when you're planning this how hot the days are going to be, how tired you're going to be and how much you're really going to be able to deal with this other person all the time," Lyndsey says, unintentionally describing marriage as much as their canoe trip. "And we're married and we love each other, but still the reality of it was a little bit unknown. And I was scared about it. But our marriage is definitely stronger for it."

"I think they say a canoe will either make or break a relationship," Andy says with a laugh. "There were a lot of people like, if you guys aren't divorced by the end you're going to be together forever."

The story of their future may be the one story they can't tell. Their biggest adventure is just beginning, a lifetime together founded on an adventure.

They're still unsure what the moral of this story is.

"The reason we did it wasn't really clear when we started," Andy admits. "Is it about nature and how we're all connected via the river? Is it about humans and how people genuinely are good and how great it is when somebody is willing to step up and help you? Is it about getting up and doing something you wanted to do and never thought you would? Is it about marriage and being a new couple and learning so much about each other?"

He pauses. "I don't know."

"It all goes hand in hand to make one big giant experience," Lyndsey says. "It's really kind of indescribable, but as well as we can describe it, that's true."

As I listen, it's almost impossible to not to envision the river as a metaphor for the course a marriage takes. It's a cute lens through which to view a human tale, but I am wary of using nature as a mirror whose main purpose is to show us ourselves. It's another form of environmental exploitation, another method of mining nature for the things we can use, another way to own an ownerless planet.

click to enlarge SUBMITTED PHOTO

When we decide nature is like us, and of us, we delude ourselves into thinking we can control it. Though the Mundells had their little spats and various bodily pains to deal with, the more significant crises were coping with historically low water levels, record-breaking heat, and drought. The towns that once bustled along a booming river were empty and deserted. And so, though it would be easy for me to wax poetic about how love is like a river and marriage is like an ocean, and the entire natural world is just one convenient metaphor for the most important of all stories - that of human occupation of it - the Mundells' story is not about how to understand ourselves better, but as how to understand a river, the outside world.

"Granted, we're in a nice position, where I'm a schoolteacher with the summer off and she was in her last year of college," Andy says. "But it shouldn't keep you from doing the stuff you want just because your schedule's tight and whatnot."

It's easy to get wrapped up in schedules, jobs and obligations. It's a different kind of river to float down, ending not in a sea but in - as in "UP!," as with the old man in Cairo - an old age full of regret.

"It's easy to do the same thing every day," Andy says.

But that's a story we all already know.



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