Movement of Water

There is something magical in water. Reflection. Seeking to understand. Seeking peace. Or maybe not seeking anything. Just being. What is it that draws us so powerfully to sit by a river; or a beach; or lie in a rowboat on a quiet lake.

At a cellular level, perhaps we remember this is where it all began for us. In water. 

I’ve written of this before, but it comes back to me now. I first saw ‘A River Runs Through It‘ at the little 2nd run theatre in Pocatello when I still had ‘The College Market’. I had not read Normal Maclean. But I was so moved by the movie that I went back to the bookstore, made a pot of coffee, and read the book cover-to-cover. Finishing just as it was time to start getting ready to open in the morning.

This, the final scene, I consider one of the finest cinematic moments of my time.

I was in Missoula a few years ago for rugby. Sunday morning it was raining, so before we went to the pitches, we checked out the local bookstore. There were several signed copies of this book, including a first edition for $5,000. I kept my money. The words are enough. But it’s a masterpiece of American literature and it still felt nice to be in the old book shop where Norman must have visited at least a few times.

Each morning, I stand on the deck with a cup of coffee and see what the Greenbrier has for me today. It’s never the same. Yesterday it was clear and running playfully over mostly submerged rocks. Some geese were floating slowly around the bend just in front of me. It was serene. This morning, owing to hard rains the past 18 hours, the river is muddy and boiling and 2 foot rollers emerge over the rocks, which are now completely hidden under the swollen waters. 

Even our little creek is roaring down the canyon and I need to keep an eye on Martini so she doesn’t get swept away.

Each drop of water passing by in front of me will make its way to Hinton and the New River. Then to the Gauley and the Kanawha and the Ohio. Finally those waters which joined my little river somewhere in West Virginia, will get into the Might Mississippi and make its way to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Water and waterways have guided our civilization and development since the beginning of time. The Nile, The Amazon, The Mississippi and all the small and large lakes and rivers were the hubs of all life. We grew up singing ‘15 Miles on the Erie Canal‘. We use water for transportation, irrigation, sanitation, nourishment.

Even now human population is most dense in the vicinity of water.

Lewis and Clark used rivers to go from East to West across North America. 

I’ve been drawn to water all my life. Perhaps more than some. Perhaps not. 

I’ve lived near water much of my life. Watkins Glen New York, on the southern tip of Seneca Lake. My earliest memory is playing alongside my sister in a stream that ran by our house and made its way in to the Lake a few hundred meters downstream.

In Chautauqua, we grew up two blocks from the Miami River in southeastern Ohio. My condo in Chicago was a block from the Chicago river and 8 or 10 blocks from Lake Michigan. I lived in Ocean Beach in San Diego and the Marina District in San Francisco. In Sydney, I lived in Mosman, just a few minutes walk from Balmoral Beach. 

Growing up on the farm we had a good sized creek that ran through our property where we spent a great deal of time. First just fishing, swimming, and playing and later trapping in the winter. My first home in Victor Idaho was butt up against a nice creek that drained into the Teton River. I had coffee every morning to listen to the sound of the water running over the rocks. In UK, I lived twice just next to the River Thames. First in Richmond, in the city, and later in Egham, nearer to my office. Always near the water. 

Enough about me. Others have made similar observations for years. I’ve read most of these folks which makes me now want to go back and re-read their words again. Very good books all. And it makes me dream of water and adventure–just as Huckleberry Finn did all those decades ago when I laid on my bed and read hour after hour and fell asleep dreaming of sailing a raft down the Mississippi.

But I do too much re-reading and not enough new reading. Just as in music I turn to my usuals—Van, Mark, Emmy-Lou, Jerry Jeff, Boss, Gordon, Various Bob’s and John’s. Perhaps a few others. My cooking routine has become stale too. 

I need to mix things up a bit I guess.

This morning is rainy and grey. But the river is still beautiful. Mystical. Mysterious. But the wood stove is hot and there is a book.

On my desk, just in front of me as I sit and write in the very early pre-dawn, I have a picture of Errol Green. A good river man. Imposed next to the photo is the following quote from ‘A River Runs Through It‘.

“I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched… Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs through It

No other news of note.

Humbly submitted.

I’d keep a boat of my own, and sail it to where the tide ran at sixteen knots at springs, and where there were whirlpools ten feet deep. I’d live on a sane frontier between nature and civilization, with one foot in the water, the other in a metropolis of restaurants and bookstores. I’d read and write in the mornings, and run away to sea in the afternoons.” 

Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

“And so I learned what solitude really was. It was raw material – awesome, malleable, older than men or worlds or water. And it was merciless – for it let a man become precisely what he alone made of himself.” 

David James Duncan, The River Why

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 

I am haunted by waters.” 

Norman Maclean, A River Runs through It

Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.”

– John Muir

“The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world.”

– Zhuangzi

“The river moves, but it follows a path. When it tires of one journey, it rubs through some rock to forge a new way. Hard work, but that’s its nature.”

– Kekla Magoon

“A river seems a magic thing—a magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

– Laura Gilpin

“The river has great wisdom and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men.”

Mark Twain

“Rivers know this—there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”

– A.A. Milne

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

– Heraclitus

“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.”

– Barry Lopez

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