Monday, July 23, 2012

Find the River (Never Let Go)

Yesterday, I planned to take my childhood friend Mela for a swim at the lake.

“The bottom is so sandy, even way out deep.” I told her while plucking and eating luscious black raspberries. “The painted turtles sunbathe on the rocks and sunfish nibble at your toes when you stand on the ledge. You’ll love it.”
As appealing as this thought was, it occurred to me that it was actually the river that I longed for.

I took her for a walk through the gardens and fields, down the pathway by the pond and to the edge of the woods, pausing along the way to mingle with flowers and what others might consider weeds. (The sweetness of the black raspberries was almost overwhelming).

Over lunch I confessed that I would rather take her to the river to visit the waterfalls and walk in the woods. I frequented this place since I was a young girl, going there often with my family and a handful of girl scouts, one time carefully crafting a sit upon made out of a vinyl table cloth, newspaper and yarn. I refresh my creative spirit there. It is a sanctuary, indeed.

We drove up the bumpy dirt road towards the notch and I felt my excitement grow as we neared the falls. I was stunned when I rounded the corner to see the parking lot overflowing with cars with license plates from various states. There were cars parked along the roadway. I stopped, hesitated and reconsidered our original plan to go to the lake. I was unaccustomed to sharing this slice of heaven with tourists. When did the secret get out?

On auto pilot, I squeezed my car into a space; Mela had never been to the falls and seemed excited in spite of my disenchantment. We got out of the car and I stopped to read a plaque that explained the legend of “Cow’s Cave.” Someone had crossed out the part that said, “Some believed the cow died…” Underneath that same person (I assume) wrote, “THE COW LIVED.” I breathed a sigh of relief that someone restored the authentic story. We grew up with that legend and I was somewhat miffed that suddenly the cow might have died. Who said so? If the cow died, the legend would as well.

We wandered down the pathway towards the water. I expected to hear the welcoming resonance of rushing water and was puzzled by its absence. We were met by the sound of people shouting instead. It was more like a crowded beach resort than the sanctuary that I knew.

We approached the falls to see that it was a mere trickle over the huge granite rock. A man stood beneath it in water up to his knees looking as if he was taking a shower with poor water pressure. There was an entire area roped off with signs explaining that there was bridge work being done. Bridge? Who needs a bridge? I looked down river and signaled for Mela to follow. Groups of people littered the river’s edge. They had chairs, coolers, beach floats and I-pods competing with one another.

We continued on downstream and I was taken aback by the low water level. It was barely making it in some places. I recalled areas that we typically crossed from one bank to another, perilously walking on a fallen tree and hopping from rock to rock. Yesterday, any river crossing was underwhelming, requiring a simple step over an almost empty riverbed.

Each pool that we encountered was shallow, almost lethargic. We passed several groups of people until I found a private spot where we could sit on the edge of a rock with our feet in the water; it was not deep enough to swim. What had become of this place I once called Heaven? Where is the river song, now silent?

Below us were two couples with riotous music, a huge blue cooler and drinks in red plastic cups. I tried to comprehend the unfolding scene. Why do they have so much stuff? When I parked the car, I placed my pocketbook in the trunk and then put my keys in my shorts pocket. The only thing I brought into the woods was my camera.

Mela and I sat and talked, catching up on recent news. I had a difficult time concentrating. For me it was not as if nothing else was going on. I watched as yet another family emerged from the woods upstream. They had so much gear, they were struggling. They hauled their cargo on a wagon. Their two little boys had massive yellow Tonka dump trucks, like what my boys loved to play with. They settled in, spreading out their blankets, chairs, cooler, beach bags, newspapers and toys. I sensed a clear lack of joy.

I’m not certain when I became lionhearted, but it has surfaced more in the past decade. In these times I must balance compassion with courage and passion with restraint. It was clear to me that the people I witnessed along this magnificently dwindling river, as humans, have become alarmingly detached from the environment and much attached to possessions. My gut instinct warned me of the inherent dangers of this way of being.

I focused on the boys, who were about four and five years old. They made familiar motor sounds while pushing their bright yellow trucks through the shallow water. Their parents were deeply involved in setting up the false, manmade environment that they dragged down the trail with them.

Weary from their blindness, I imagined approaching them and asking, “What about sticks? Did you know that all boys love to play with sticks? And what about that frog over there? You are missing him! Don’t you want to explore, pretend, and collect precious rocks embedded with glittery mica?” I thought of our many rock collections more precious than gold.

I wanted to urge the parents to allow and encourage their sons to play, imagine, discover and be in awe of the river and woods. This is who we are! I begged silently for them to be part of it; to belong to that which they belong.

I wanted to suggest that they turn off the radio so that they can hear the music of Our Mother – birds, wind, bees and the various tones of water as it moves under, over and around rocks. Be playful in nature. We must remember and honor the divinity of life, for which we belong.

With a fraction of joy, I looked at my feet in the clear, cold water and conjured my river memories. My dreams almost escaped, floating downstream on a tender green leaf. I held tight with help from a yellow butterfly near the mossy bank.

I was thankful to Mela for taking photos as I was uninspired. I lay back on the rock and closed my eyes as the sun warmed my face. What has become of us?

The only requirement when communing with nature is to be completely present. Nature does not call for devices other than what is necessary to capture, enrich or sustain. Know, honor and accept her offerings. If we as a species are removed from or missing these vital elements of which we are a part of, we have lost the ability to evolve.

We must find the river and teach our children and our children’s children to keep it flowing within.
Journal: Bittersweet

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