Patron Saint of the River

The following story serves no enlightening purpose in itself. This is a simple account of meeting with a River Man.

Mike Mooney, 80 years old but didn’t look a day over 55.

I drove into his driveway in Rocky Ripple at noon on Thursday. I got out of my car and tried to distinguish the front out of his house from the back. Most homes face the road, but his back was turned to the street and as his home faced the White River. With immaculate landscaping and a huge “back” porch (it was really at the front of their house), I was immediately greeted by his open arms that welcomed me to his porch. The sliding glass door was permanently opened to the wind. God’s long, elaborately crafted tree branches were decoratively hung from his walls. Candles tastefully ornamented his tables. No television polluted the living room. Coffee brewed. Immediately I offered my appreciation for his home and he tastefully denied yet accepted the compliment, “I don’t need this house. I’m happy in a tent. But, yes, this house is holy,” he said.

Mike agreed to meet with Jeff Rasley (a professor whom I traveled to Nepal with and agreed to venture seven days with me on the White, Wabash, and Ohio Rivers) concerning my intent to venture down the Mississippi River. Mike Mooney has canoed thousands of miles and was willing to offer us his wisdom. His first words concerning the trip were, “I travel like I live here – slowly.” I knew this man understood life.

As I asked more questions about his simple life, Mike told me that he and his wife do not speak to each other before noon. Unless they make morning love. “The more you embrace the quiet, the more you need. The silence is like cocaine.” Their approach to life and love is truly minimal, unique, powerful, youthful, and consecrated.

After I sensed that he was one of these otherworldly, meditative, Zen masters I asked him what book he gifted most. He said, “Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Walt is my best friend.” I then told him that I was planning on bringing Walt Whitman as my only reading material. “I just told you that Walt is my best friend. See? I start crying when I talk about him,” he said. The power, simplicity, and influence that Whitman has offered Mike could only be relayed through his simple tears. I am beyond excited to build a friendship with Walt.

His greatest fear for traveling at less than 4 MPH via canoe was boredom (a trait with which I easily identify). Yet, “Every bend in the River was an exciting adventure. I thought, ‘Boy, what’s going to be around that turn?!’” His youthful, genuine passion for paddling was more than inspiring. On one trip he said, “We were focused on making good pace. But one day we traveled for less than a mile until a mystic area found us that we simply could not pass.” And so they camped after abandoning their idea of keeping good pace. The power of the River took hold of their soul. More impressively, they surrendered to that power.

An inspiring person understands life. You know that feeling of fullness that sits light in your soul but makes a heavy impact after you meet these kinds of older men and women? His aura offered insight, inspiration, encouragement, and authentic drive that came from a deeper place than my heart. Mike Mooney is my patron saint of the River.

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