I've always been fascinated by rivers.
And standing next to one, watching the seemingly endless flow of water is almost as hypnotic as standing on a beach and watching the waves lash against the shore.
The ocean is like our lungs, ebbing and flowing, in and out, inhale and exhale. And the river is ever moving, continuously flowing like the blood in our veins and arteries, pumping life to lakes along the way and feeding untold creatures with the nutrients it carries on the journey...just like the blood traveling through our bodies and feeding our cells.
Sometimes as I gaze at the rushing current, I'll grab a piece of grass and throw it in, watching it roll over rocks, drop into holes and flow out of view. Knowing that somewhere, maybe miles and miles downstream, that piece of grass will possibly make it to the ocean. And wouldn't it be great to ride along for the journey? Just like Huckleberry Finn on an old raft with no want for time, with no want for money.
As a teenager, my friends and I would find peace and adventure in canoeing down rivers in Northern Wisconsin. For me, it was a great escape and a way to channel excess hormone frustration into constructive energy. Navigating and paddling as hard as I could to miss the rocks up ahead, reading maps, finding a place to camp, cooking meals and just laughing around a campfire; all the things that gave my adolescent soul independence and confidence.
By evening we'd sit by a fire and replay the day...passing around a bottle of whiskey, the voices lowering as the night became deeper, until only the hisses and pops of the wood burning in front of us were heard. And soon, as the wood turned to coals and those coals turned to a deep amber, only the continual flow of the river nearby; the unending, ever flowing current of moving water...gently taking our consciousness further along into the depths of sleep.
I understand why dams are made and rivers are harnessed - a source of energy and a way to regulate flooding. Yet, I hate to see something so free clipped like the feathers of a bird and thus grounded. It's like we've killed the wildness, the unpredictability, the thing that made it engrossing and unforgettable. We put the river on a treadmill and sucked the energy from it. What is left is tired and worn out, weakened and drained.
Could it be that maybe each of us, in our souls, has a river longing to be free? Free of society, free of government, free of restraints, free of status quo? The river can be so gentle in spots, safe enough for a child floating in an inner tube, yet around any bend can be category five rapids with rocks and danger. But, isn't that what life is about?
I've always felt a gentleness in the river even when my heart is beating from excitement and I'm wet from paddling against a strong current. Its almost maternal at times, the tree canopy above like the arms of my mother cradling me-comforting me, guiding me. And the river keeps flowing, taking me somewhere new, up around the bank there may be a vast open field or a deep and dark forest...only the river knows and thats what I love. It's like taking the backroads instead of the highway, sure the river isn't the fastest way to get somewhere, but like the small towns you pass through on a country road, the scenery is worth the time.
One of may favorite composers, Johnny Mercer said it best in the song Moon River:
"Moon River, wider than a mile: I'm crossin' you in style someday. Old dream maker, you heartbreaker, Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way. Two drifters, off to see the world. There's such a lot of world to see. We're after the same rainbow's end, Waitin' round the bend, My huckleberry friend, Moon River and me. "
My time on earth has been like a river. There were times when the current was smooth and gentle and other times when the water churned with danger and pain. Times when rapids could be heard up ahead - a 5am phone call from Wisconsin, a sister's broken voice telling you she was dying of cancer.
We know not what will come, but we do know that there will be a battle. To what degree, we have no idea.
There are times when you drift along the river and nothing matters in the world...a sand bar allows for a safe place to portage and you sit and watch minnows dart back and forth just under the surface. I think back to sitting in a boat with my dad in the later period of his life. Fishing pole in hand, talking about life, history and politics and realizing what a waste of time was spent on disliking this man in my teen years and how I wished I had more time to spend with him now.
That river keeps on flowing. This body, like an old canoe has taken some pretty serious wear. I don't see or hear as well, I've watched loved ones pass on and met new family members along the way. But, I can't stop this current, I can't stop time. Tomorrow I will wake up and I'll be a little closer to the ocean.