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Walking Along the Flumes: And then where was I?

Posted Jul 15 2011 9:49pm


A few weeks ago my husband Jim, my son Andy, and I took an hour-long hike along the flume.

Now what exactly is a flume?

I didn’t know until ten years ago when we moved from a metropolitan area to a rural ridge surrounded by canyons laden with running rivers. According to, the flume we traversed is “an open artificial channel or chute carrying a stream of water, as for furnishing power or conveying logs.”

As we strolled beside the flume, we admired the flora and fauna decorating each side of our path. Wild sweet peas rose up in full pink glory to delight our eyes, while water cascaded over boulders in the raging river far below.

When Andy, a computer graphics specialist, spotted a wall of rocks, he remarked, “I love to see real rocks so I can picture in my mind how to model them realistically on a computer.” Okay, that was an interesting comment I never heard on a walk through the forest.  When Jim, the consummate hiker, looked at that same rock face, he immediately wondered how he could scale the wall to get to whatever awaited at the top.

And then there was I. Or more appropriately, then where was I?

These same rocks reminded me of the strength and encouragement of friends who supported me during my cancer treatments. These human gems stood as solid granite as they brought me comforting words while they assisted me with housework, meals, babysitting and rides. Collectively they formed an impregnable rock fortress upon which I could climb as I recovered my energy.

Next we spotted some rushing water in the normally placid flume. Upon seeing it, Andy gushed with pleasure as he expressed how he might animate that fluid motion on his laptop.  And Jim instantly expressed his desire to kayak down the chute as if he were a white-water rafter.

And then where was I?

To me, this frothy water represented a cleansing of all toxins from my system. Before and during chemo treatments I would gulp down beaucoup quarts of water to fill up my veins and keep the chemo flushed through my circulatory system. Hope bubbled forth from the churning foam.

Further down the path we encountered a large yellowish slug slowly making its way across the path toward the flume waters. It’s a wonder it didn’t get squished by one of our shoes as we trod the path without much care to what lie on the ground.  To Andy, this slug ballooned into an animated character on whom he would fix eyes, nose, mouth, unwieldy legs and two antennae.  The result?  A lovable talking Pixar-like creature.  On a different plane, Jim wondered whether in survival mode in the wilderness, he, a vegetarian, would resort to eating one of those–raw. Yuck!

And then where was I?

Slowly but surely, like this slug, I inched my way back to recovery from breast cancer treatment. First the surgery, then the chemo, then the Herceptin, topped by a frosting of Arimidex. Then most recently my setback with unexplained chest pain. The slow pace of recovery, often frustrating, has taught me patience as I slink my way to the life-giving waters of good health.

Further down, we came across a tidy row of beautiful ferns lining the flume edge as if planted by a master gardener.  On the other side, wild rhododendron and lilac abounded, lush and luxuriant.  Andy traced the delicate lines of the fern fronds in his mind’s eye, meeting the challenge of drawing them into a convincingly accurate computer model.  Jim just reveled in the beauty of wildlife always evident on adventure walks. Wildflowers glow in these mountainous, forested settings.

And then where was I?

The wildflowers reminded me of two orchid plants my fellow employees had given me after my first cancer diagnosis. Like those of its cousins in the rainforest, its exquisite stems pointed upward bearing exotic lavender petals. These same wildflowers and the ferns also brought to mind bouquets sent to my house in abundance by concerned friends as I embarked on my voyage through cancer. How could I forget such love wrapped up in cellophane with florist tape and foam?

At certain well-placed breakwaters, streams from the flume would overflow into a culvert at a 90-degree angle to the flume, running down to the river below. Again Andy envisioned the computer possibilities of capturing the liquid movement in a realistic fashion. Jim saw the water as feeding the river below so that it would have a strong current navigable by oar-powered vessels.

And then where was I?

As my lymphedema therapist would massage my arm gently to move the stagnant liquid accumulating at my elbow, I would envision a release of the stubborn fluid toward my heart. This breakwater symbolized new pathways formed by repeated manual massage to drain lymph fluid out of my swollen limb.

The flume trail could be treacherous at times. Several times we had to negotiate narrow metal-mesh walkways poised precariously over the middle of the concrete channel. Walking single-file without handrails, we balanced ourselves like an acrobat with no safety net. The only warning of danger was a sign fastened to the front end of the structure advising the adventurer to use “extreme caution.” Dappled areas mixed with shadow made the walk even more dizzying. I trained my eyes mostly on my feet, banishing the temptation to look out over certain dazzling vistas on either side.

Halfway across one particularly long walkway Andy spied a spider web spun into a delicate and perfect pattern. At the middle stood a spider waiting for an unsuspecting insect to come thither. Seeing the web as nature’s intricate design sparkling with sunlight, Andy pondered how he might model it in a way that would be captivating to a young-adult audience watching a Disney video. Jim marveled at it as yet another of the delights of God’s creation found when a hiker chooses to inspect the micro-cosmos.

And then where was I?

Consistent with the complexity of my life post-cancer, the spider web bore multiple meanings. Like a fly that moves in too close, I needed to avoid getting caught in a trap of self-pity over my cancer. And taking the spider’s point of view, I desired to build a web of networks to reach out to others suffering from cancer-related effects. How could I draw them closer to me and extend my influence?  A third meaning focuses on the fragile nature of our fiber after a cancer diagnosis. Once we’ve been through the scourge of treatment, our frame may look delicate on the outside, easily torn. But like the web, in reality we may exhibit a strength we never knew we had. The resilience of a woman impacted by breast cancer often belies her own self-image.

How could three trekkers—all from the same family, no less–view the same natural marvels so differently? While we walked the same pathway, we viewed the vistas through different lenses. The same is true of our fellow sojourners spiraling through life’s trajectory. Our past experiences dictate the different perspectives from which we draw our observations. But we all share planet Earth together. It’s fun to look at the world from another’s standpoint. I enjoyed every comment from my family members about this nature walk I hope never to forget.



Have you been on a nature walk that became a lesson in philosophy? What kind of walks do you take? Mentally, where are you on these treks?


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