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My Cousin's Keeper

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” -Gen 4:9

Smells from the high-desert brought a wave of excitement filled with fond memories. I paused to relish, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the scent of warming sage. The smooth, powerful water kneaded slowly under our raft, slapping each pontoon on a time and rhythm entirely its own. This was my first dose of medicine, merely minutes into an weeklong backcountry float hunt. The John Day River flows northward through the central high country of Oregon, carving exaggerated loops of steep and rugged canyons until it eventually connects with the Columbia and then out into the Pacific. The morning sun on the ridges ahead brought a smile as I strapped a dry bag into place. The scenery changes constantly, enticing the senses in ways most would only dream.

On the oars was A.J., my cousin-once-removed, from Oregon. He was raised playing in the outdoors, fishing these mighty rivers, ripping motorcycles and camping with his family in the vast tracts of public land this beautiful state offers. My mom’s side lives along the west coast, and early on, our families didn’t see much of each other. The summer I flew out to guide rafting trips for a college program changed everything. That was 16 years ago, I was in my early twenties. AJ hadn’t yet hit double-digits, and called me “Uncle Drew” for lack of a better title. It was the same era he and his friends would laugh all-out at my jokes and Michigan accent, pulling at their little league hats and covering their faces. Since then, there’ve been return trips, and we’ve spent many days chasing trout together on the Deschutes. It’s a privilege to know him as an adult, and today, A.J. is just as quick to light up a room with his big laugh as he was then. There’s a genuine curiosity in him I admire, and we get along well, a pre-requisite for a float trip like ours.