“Goodbye to a River” Thoughts

I had written earlier about how I suspected the author to use history to give us a connection, the only one a people who have forgotten the cycle of seasons, could make to a river so as to allow for a slow seeping of a more mature view of a river to permeate our vision. However, this method in itself is insufficient… evidence the many old timers met along the trip that scoff at his journey. Would they understand? Probably not. Yet reading about the various tales concerning the people of the Brazos has not affected my view of Nature or the river, but his has changed my view of the names on the map. When I look at the map in the front of the book now, I see familiar names and remember bits of tales and absurdities.

But here I find that this is a bit odd, the practice of retelling area folklore. I cannot imagine Saint David Thoreau wandering the forest, recording the details of past explorers. I cannot imagine that it was much of a concern to him. His directive was to go out into the woods and to live life deliberately.

I find myself sometimes reading faster over the stories of eccentric loners or troublesome Comanche in order to get back to the river. Do I really care about the people and their sometimes disrespectful approach to the land? Not at all. This may appear to be in direct contrast to my belief of a greater community of mankind, to quickly scorn the habits of others, yet I state that my interest in such activities as a group of drunken yahoos terrorizing a simple man to be uninteresting. I desire the river itself. The waterfowl, the deer watching from a misty bank, the horned owl flying overhead, the barking squirrels, this and the river itself.

I was fortunate to have grown up in what many would consider the country. Truth be told it was a half-breed suburbia of a small city with a population of around 6000. The suburbs that I lived in had both lot houses as well as ten to fifty acre farms. It was just as common to see a lawn mower as it was to see grazing cattle nearby. The house was situated on the front end of a large rectangle plot of land which was several acres. There was a separating pasture between the forest and the house and within the forest was a creek which ran across it like a belt. Though I’ve not stepped my foot within the muddy banks for some 14 years or so, I can still close my eyes and trace every single curve of the creek. I knew every bush and tree and would make many maps, though I did not need a single one. There were many times that I would go hunting for cottontail or coon with my ever escaping beagle and one night, in pitch black, I heard the scream of a panther just steps away. Scooping dog in hand I took off like a shot back toward the house.

Yesterday, Thursday, a great rain came through. I’ve slept in holes in the ground through much worse than what hit Houston, but by the accounts of the news program this morning, it was a big rain. Whatever. I was preparing myself for homework when I could not control my wandering spirit any longer. The dirty wool sky and the chill temperatures and the slight drizzling rain all begged for a walk among the ceder, pin-oak, pine, and sycamore. I stopped by regular haunt of mine, Borders Coffee and Books, and loaded my travel mug with a good hot cup of mocha.

I arrived at the park, the weather threatened to break a thundercloud, and walking was more like swimming. I was wearing several layers of clothing covered by a rich fleece pullover. They are the best in such conditions and the phrase “like water off a duck’s back” applies to their properties of moisture control. I packed my small travel journal into the back of my pants, opted not to carry the umbrella, and began to walk into the forest. My presence was instantly announced by a large raven as a butler may announce a guest to the master of the house. Stopping briefly to admire the cocky motion of his head as he moved his perspective from one eye to the other to better gauge me by, I began my walk.

The problem with walking, is that vision is limited to certain areas. One must either be concerned with the immediate grace of a creeping death vine which is slowly killing its host tree, or admire the cathedral nature of the near-distant enclosure of solitary pine trees… a type called “slickuns” back home for their greater use in the paper mill as they have no branches along the lower forty feet or so. One also finds many interests on the ground, rummaging squirrels, darting wrens, mysterious tracks in mud, or one might look above at the weave of branch and mist, of the athletic expertise of squirrel, of the superior landing skills that birds have over any of man’s machines. Perhaps this is one of the magick properties of Nature… that there are things to be found near and far, high and low. We lose touch of these extra dimensions in our urban world. We think here and now.

And this leads me to my next point. Perhaps the author is not retelling the stories of others along the river for our benefit so much as he is telling it for his. A form of reconnecting to the river in a manner which is appropriate for him. After all, did he not leave the area for some time? On family vacations my father would always choose mountains as our destination. Most of the time it was the Ozarks, but one year it was the Appalachians. My father could never figure out what sickness of the mind would cause someone to leave a city and go to a larger city for a vacation. To him it was pure stupidity. Anyway, whenever we would hike up a long trail and would stop to overlook a bluff onto the richness below, he would say “out there is my rock”. He said that he was looking for his rock. I never really understood this as a kid, but I do now. The author of the book is trying to uncover his rock. A rock, in Jungian terms, is symbolical for the element of Earth and underneath it the Chthonic Underworld. It is a firm connection with what is seen as the reflection of Heaven on Earth, unification of opposites to be sure and so greater the psychological impact. When I look upon the wide expanse forest of Western Montana, the towering mountains above them, and the mind bending prevalence of Nature, I believe that my own Rock is nestled within those trees… along a bubbling brook, covered with snow half the year and surrounded by wildflower at times of the Sun’s return.

As I drove from the park back to the coffee shop (before being interrupted by two fire alarms (I am a volunteer firefighter) and hence getting no real studying done for the day) I was content to listen not to the sound of a radio, but instead to the many sounds heard in the slight patter of rain across the windshield and roof of the car. The dark, rain drenched bark of the trees, the sagging limbs trying to hold the bottom of the sky up lest it open and flood, the hundreds of clear pearls of water which hung on the tip of every branch and needle, the peculiarly wiry and harsh nature of the birds around, the very temperature itself, all seemed greatly familiar to me. This was they type of flora and fauna that I’ve been in my entire life. There were times in the jungles of Thailand, or the coral reefs of Okinawa, or the majestic emerald walled mountains of Oahu, and I cannot forget the frosty nights in Alaska where I watched in wonder at the dancing of spirits in the air. I knew they were electromagnetic disturbances, but I liked to think of them as spirits nonetheless. My thoughts have continuously and with greater frequency traveled to the Northern Woods or the Pacific Northwest. What manner of flora and fauna might I expect there? Still that great embodiment of a North American Continent to be sure, but would the differences feel alien to me? Would I have to submerse myself into local folklore and legend as a farmer must disrupt topsoil with ox-pulled iron in order to set down roots?

I do not know, but I do know that I yearn to carry compass and pen and to traverse the slopes of the Rockies or the Cascades. But that will come in time. I give myself two years to obtain my degree from UH. By then I hope to be closer to some understanding.

A point of future writing will no doubt have to be about the Comanche party who came from Oklahoma to ask for a bull buffalo, only to kill it in their old tradition, look upon it sadly, and depart in like manner. This begs for investigation and I am curious if this was some attempt on their part to “touch” their old lives (in the manner the author was traveling down the river) since their lives have been changed into something completely different than their spirits could easily cope with. But it is getting further into the afternoon and I must traverse the epitome of man’s progress and further isolation from each other… grid lock… to reach my bar where I might serve drinks to people who are searching for the very thing they were missing in their drive. They could buy the drinks from a store cheaper and drink them at home, but they wish to leave and go to someplace where they interact with others, no matter how pricey the drinks or corny the bartender’s jokes are. An so we are full circle. We live in great proximity to one another, but we are all cut off.

And like the wind from a Jimi Hendrix song I can hear it speak, but instead of “Mary”, I hear “Simplify”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s