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Of Time On The River


September 24, 2018

I spent a long while this past week standing in or walking beside the river . . .

Autumn is arriving to the Eastern Sierra. The cottonwoods are quilting with yellow patches, and the aspens in the high valleys and descending creeks are already golden, showing rust, and beginning to rattle and whisper the coming change. The willows beside the rivers are dropping their bright ochre leaves; I see them whirl in the back eddies along the bank, briefly gather with other debris of the fading summer, before speeding off downstream to be caught in thickets and behind stones, to rest, and whirl off again. The water is low and cooling in the shallows wanting for the snow that is sure to come to replenish all things. The birds know it, the fish taste it, and both are starting to move. The deer are gorging themselves on the red berries in the copses, attentive, but less spooky, and are haunting the low meadows in numbers. The air is rife with the finishing of something and the anticipation of something else- all at once- and just right for the taking in of a deep breath.

    As time passes and years silently but swiftly drift by, I find myself growing more akin to an old dog. I like to wander away by myself, stray off from the pack and sniff around at my own pace. Put my nose to the wind and smell whatever it holds; crushed sage or water drying on a sun-bleached rock. Observe my surroundings and my steps, watching and listening, and pausing when I wish to. I’ll sit in the shade when it suits me, and lay in the sun for as long as it feels good. I’ll pee when I want and eat when I want, and rest often and randomly, and find no shame or guilt in the doing of any of it.

    When the whim arises and my body feels the urge, I’ll chase a bird out of my path or bark at a passing stranger- perhaps multiple times- and pee again. But on the whole, I’ll speak less and listen more, but not necessarily to human voices.

    I’ll stare at the far clouds moiling on the hilltops, hear an osprey cry its errant warning, and watch as a heavy-bodied heron labors downstream through the river canyon to find a more secluded place to fish. I’ll nod my approval, and give thanks.

    Every now and then while I’m fishing, I’ll do something that I know doesn’t work, just to test it and make sure that it still doesn’t; because maybe it will this one time, and it will surprise and delight me. I’ll look at the Y’s and the V’s, check the seams, undercuts and tail-outs for feeding fish. I’ll look for rises on the flats beneath the riffles, and then cock my head as a very large cruising trout swims within inches; observing me or mocking me . . . I’m not certain which.

    As much as I’ve always desired to learn and see new things, a large part of me wants to remain ignorant and innocent to it all. To forget any knowledge I’ve ever gained or possessed about anything . . . to see and experience the moment fresh and for the first time, even though I’ve seen those same things a thousand times before. But not like this.

    I like the quiet. Nature’s quiet. The wind in the trees and the seemingly senseless chatter of the birds and the water talking away in their own secret language, conversing about the unfolding story of the season. It somehow feels right to take great pleasure in not knowing anything about anything.

     I’ll quit trying to figure it out for a moment, understand it, or explain it, and simply enjoy the mystery of it all. And just be still. And later, if it suits me, I’ll meet up with the pack again to enjoy their company and share a meal, each others stories, and our many adventures large and small.

    At the end of the day I’ll lay down and rest my tired body, and it will feel good. I’ll also rest in the fact that I’ve done nothing very extraordinary all day long but spend time by the river with some dear friends, made the acquaintance of a few marvelously colored and incredibly freckled trout, wandered off by myself for a moment or two like an old dog, and enjoyed it all very much.

    While closing my eyes I’ll think of the moon rising over the trees; surreal, envious of nothing, Lord of the Heavens, showing its radiant face upon the landscape that has held us willing captives for that day. And on the river: alive and shivering on the water that is ever-flowing, ever-knowing the mystery that continues to fascinate and draw us near.

    Then, for the first time that day, I’ll know something: that above all else, God and life are good and that I am blessed beyond measure to be in it for this short precious while. I’ll sense that I am like a breath, and my days like a fleeting shadow, and I’ll drift off to sleep with the sounds of the river still rushing in my ears.

    Everlasting to everlasting . . .

    What a fine day it was.

    What a very fine day.

    And then, half-conscious, laugh to myself . . .

    Goodnight Moon!

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