* LEAP OF FAITH: "And writing a poem," the late Richard Hugo noted in "The Real West Marginal Way," "finally may be a form of self-acceptance in alien country." For Hugo, who was an avid fisherman, poems took their forms in a lifetime of books, many of which are still in print. But for the rest of us who won't spend decades staring at the blank page each morning, there are several ways to give thanks -- regardless of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- for the simple fact of being alive.

What comes to mind is the cathartic bike ride of a teacher friend driven up the wall by the bureaucratic hiring delays of a nearby school system, as well as the startling agility of another friend who, barefoot, and with talk of divorce in the air, scaled a difficult rock face set next to the Arkansas River in Colorado. He would've gone higher had the weather not turned. Both acts, to use mountaineer Pete Athans's phrase again, were kinds of physical poetry, compressed expressions given form by deep emotion, far more than just blowing off steam.

The same can be said of kayaking over the Spout at the Potomac River's Great Falls, a roughly 25-foot waterfall with a rock-edged takeoff and a constricted landing zone. Paddling off the Spout once defined cutting-edge in the sport, and to this day the drop elicits great respect. If you're ready, as an ever-increasing number of kayakers seem to be, there's no better way to clear your mind.

Up there the tendrils of bills, to-do lists and compromises fall away. It's all present tense, the hull-angling approach, the final strokes at the lip, the whirring plunge, then the exhilaration of paddling to your friends waiting for you in the eddy. They'd get you out of there if something went wrong. It'd take a poet as good as Hugo to convey the deep emotion felt.

The Spout truly is a gift. If you're going there, or even if you've been over it many times, it wouldn't hurt to read up on what you'll find. Ed Grove's "Classic Virginia Rivers" contains a succinct account of the ways you can approach the Class V-and-up sections of Great Falls, and American Whitewater's excellent Web site spells out, warts and all, the at-times adversarial history shared by Great Falls boaters and the National Park Service. You don't need permission to run the Falls, and it's a good idea to keep it that way. For more, visit www.americanwhitewater.org; Grove's guide is available at local outdoors stores.

* FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The non-profit Potomac Conservancy will host its sixth annual Picnic on the Potomac on Saturday starting at 4 p.m. at the Carderock Pavilion in the C&O Canal National Historical Park just outside the Beltway on the Maryland side of the river. Non-members are welcome. For directions and more, visit www.potomac.org/join/picnic05.html.

* TAKE THE BAIT: The Northern Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited will meet on Thursday at the McLean VFW Post 8241, 1051 Spring Hill Rd. There will be a fly-tying session at 6:45 p.m., followed by a report on the restoration efforts at Virginia's Big Spring Creek at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited. For details, visit www.nvatu.org.

-- John Mullen