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Amy Choate-Nielsen
The Colorado River is at times smooth and glassy, other times it is frothy and full of rapids during Amy Choate-Nielsen's trip. Calm stretches of water make "river time" peaceful and relaxing.

My life is ruled by time.

It’s a thing that is both restrictive and liberating. It’s a burden when I know I have five minutes to get somewhere that takes 30, but it’s a relief when I happen to find a moment that is free.

When I had babies, I lived my life by the clock. There was nothing better than finding calm in my chaos by instituting a schedule for my world. When my schedule was interrupted, I felt uncomfortable. I felt my chest squeeze as I visualized my children missing naps and being cranky. Sleep begets sleep, and I needed my sleep, therefore my children needed to sleep at the right time. My whole day revolved around the clock.

Getting into a routine was the hardest part of transitioning into motherhood, for me, and a watch was my security blanket.

I looked at that watch all day long. I had the alarm on so it would chime every hour on the hour. I knew what time it was without even glancing down. I had Indiglo in case I needed to look at my watch in the middle of the night when the baby woke up and needed to nurse. I looked at it during the day to see what happened next. I looked to that watch to tell me what I should be doing at any given time of the day.

My watch was a part of me. It was on my wrist all day, every day, until a month ago, when it stopped working. It’s probably the battery. It’s probably dead. I could probably change it. But something in me just hasn’t taken the time.

At first, I felt sad when I looked down and saw the big white stripe on my skin that used to be covered up by a big green watchband. I habitually reached down to push up my timepiece so the buttons wouldn’t dig into my hand, only to find nothing was there.

And still, I didn’t get it fixed.

I wasn’t wearing a watch when I drove to the tiny office of Colorado River and Trail Expedition in Green River, Emery County, to take a quick trip with my sister. Up until then, I asked other people for the time or looked at my phone. But there, on the banks of the Colorado River, I heard someone ask our guide, Walker Mackay, if we were on schedule, and he said, “We’re on river time now.”

On the river, time is a thing that flows like the water under your boat. You simply watch it go and imagine stopping it for just a minute to make the moment last.

Amy Choate-Nielsen stands on the banks of the Colorado River while she waits for her two-day trip down Westwater Canyon to begin. | Provided by Amy Choate-Nielsen

I learned that river time is the best time. For two days, I fell into the flow of time. You wake up sometime, when the sun rises, probably, but it doesn’t matter when. You eat sometime, probably when you’re hungry, but it doesn’t matter because someone else prepared the food and you didn’t lift a finger. You swim sometimes because you can’t resist the smooth pull of water that carries you without effort, but it doesn’t matter how long you stay in.

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At some point, you eat dinner — maybe it’s steak and salad — and it might be pouring rain the whole time, but it doesn’t really matter if the rain never stops, because at some point you’ll get into your tent and listen to the patter of the water falling over your head. And you’ll fall asleep some time, but you won’t even know when, because you just let your body go. When the sky clears and you move outside to sleep under the naked stars, you’ll only think of how cool the air is, and how big are the cliffs around you, and you won’t notice that it’s actually two o’clock in the morning.

I went on the river to celebrate the passage of time — my sister’s 40th birthday.

But I learned that sometimes, it’s nice to take a break from counting the minutes.

I still haven’t repaired my watch. Somewhere, somehow, I’m still on the river.