For the 4th of July holiday, the boys and I decided to take a refresher and kayak the Tallopoosa River. The farmer had an itch to relax in his own boat for a few hours and a good river float would do the trick. Sissy was invited to the lake for a couple of days and as a girl-teen-mom, I obliged.

I packed a sack of bologna sandwiches and chips; the boys packed a cooler and we all loaded up in our little red Toyota pickup. Tagging behind the truck was a trailer used to stack the kayaks and drive them to our drop off point. We would park the truck and float the few hours down river to our friends’ treehouse-style, riverfront  bungalow.

Driving to the river is an adventure itself. It takes a maze of rural country roads, bridges, dirt paths and farmland to get to the canopy of trees that overlooks the river. It is key that you keep the windows rolled down and you drive a good bit slower than usual so the father can tell long and magical stories of times gone by through family and country living.

We eventually arrive at our kayak drop-in point at a place called “the mud house.” It’s an old shack that appears to be made of stucco or “mud” that apparently used to be a party place back in the ’70s. Next to it is an ancient Burlington Northern yellow caboose train car covered in ivy and weeds. The boys always talk of going in but the idea of sneaky snakes always keeps them at bay.

We drag our boats off the trailer and grab our supplies for the next few hours. Sheppy boy has his life jacket strapped on tight and pulls one red boat down the muddy forest path. I keep my eyes peeled for snakes; we are in the middle of nowhere land, completely secluded, a deep forest broken up by one very large, beautiful river.

Isaac helps us load into our boats at the bank, coolers, kids and paddles. In minutes we are afloat in this magnificent stretch of Alabama. We have taken this route at least five times and still every time we begin, we each sit back and stare; the sounds of birds for miles mixed with slow waters and space that never ends.

It is a dream.

Shep perches himself atop his father’s boat as the ultimate rower, and the father is always very happy about this. Braxton is seen far ahead of us as a small speck on a lime, green raft. He is much like his mother as he always finds an escape in solitude anywhere he goes. I love this about him, sinking into himself where he is certain, peace and wonder resides.

When the river is high, there are few stops on rocks and shoals, as they are covered and unseen by the water, but there are still patches of lush green river grass found in the middle to stop and have a quick hangout. Our favorite hangout being the bologna sandwich.

Have you ever had a bologna sandwich on a hot summer day? If so, it is the most fantastic thing you will ever eat. There is no comparison. My mother used to pack us a cooler full on trips to the beach or Calloway Gardens. It is essential to any summer and if you have yet to have a bologna sandwich this season, please make it a point to do so, even if for your own backyard picnic.

After the sandwich, my mind begins to get all juicy and thoughtful in my own solitude; something you kind of can’t help on a secluded river.

I began thinking about the great nation we live in and all the chaos we perceive around ourselves. We are told of all the hardship on news and media, yet what I see in my own day to day is good. I am still here. I am still a child of God. My family is fed, our beds are made and we are together. There is still no place I’d rather live nor people I would rather do life with.

I am alone on a vast, open river, where I cannot see what’s around the corner. I’m paddling — right, left, right, left — and with every other stroke I think “gratitude … gratitude … freedom.”

We are more united that we make out to be. We are more connected than we often see. We are more blessed than we imagine being. Gratitude seems to get me every time.

And why is gratitude something we forget about almost daily? How is it even intensely faithful people like me need a constant reminder?

We are today still one nation under God. No one has ever known what’s around the corner, so why are we any different than all those that came before us?

We aren’t. We are just as vulnerable as all the men and women that fought for us to be here today, we are also just as fierce, just as determined and just as brave.

I think the idea is that we do not give up. And that we remember to count the blessings and gifts of today.

The freedom we hold in our hands is due to another that persevered for us, and that job is now placed in the hands of me and you. We are Americans, land of the free and home of the brave. May we remember, that that person is us.