Monday, September 19, 2011


The funny thing about rivers is that they're never ever the same; the water flows, plants flower and wither, fish get caught, get eaten, move downstream,, and little boys throw rocks and sticks in to see how large a splash they can make. In a way, those little boys are asserting their existence, saying "look I exist and this spray of water is proof that I can alter the world around me" as if the roads, the buildings, the trash and the tombstones weren't enough,

Maybe we like rivers so much because the change isn't shocking. We come back and fish in the same spot summer after summer, generation after generation. We search for the changes, and find comfort in their insignificance. Yet, when we remember our times by the river, they care categorized not by that which was the same, but by what changed. It was the simmer the big pine tree fell that I caught my fat rainbow, and it was the summer that the lupin got to be seven feet hight that my little brother fell into the river and lost his shoe.

They say the longest river is the Nile, but that the biggest is the Amazon. America's dearest river is the Mississippi, courtesy of Mark Twain. The English Channel and the Panama canal are squat rivers - not very long, but quite wide. Maybe they're square rivers. Or river pieces, like when you fly over Kansas and you can see the farming squares. Both the canal and the channel have been cultivated like a farming square.

Once, during an African safari, I sat and watched the river that ran alongside our campsite. It was a noisy river, because the water made small rapids as it ran over the carcasses of six wildebeest that drowned while crossing. As I pondered the cannibal trampling of the beasts, a hippo stuck her head up and quickly went back under. Suddenly, the river was not lazy brown water, but a special, rare opportunity. Hippos look like soft river beasts, but rumor has it they're fatal. I guess their nearest relative is the beautiful undercover CIA agents who catches the bad guys. I sat and watched and waited for the hippo to come up, wiggle her ears and sink back down to the bottom. Seeing her in split second intervals made the experience all the more romantic. Eventually, she stopped surfacing. I suppose she drowned.

People settle and thrive alongside rivers. It's ironic because when the rain comes, the river floods and everything is destroyed. For some reason, we're convinced we can conquer water and try to prove so by building places such as Venice and New Orleans and Holland. And we invent stories like that of the little boy who put his finger in the dyke.

I wonder if people attract themselves to rivers because they feel akin to them. A river is really a wonderful metaphor for a person. But I never liked metaphors, so I'll leave it at that.

And people don't just settle on rivers. We also build boats - all kinds of boats. If I were a river, I'd be insulted that man, in his insolence, thought that he could conquer a mightier river with a simple boat. Sure, boats work well enough for us most of the time, just to keep us on our toes, rivers make sure to turn a few boats over. Just in case we forget who is stronger.

Humans certainly are fragile creatures. There's one place that my metaphor doesn't work. When it comes down to survival, we're about as strong as an infant rabbit. We can't run fast or bite hard. We're not big enough to fight, not small enough to hide, not nimble enought to climb. All we've got is a big brain, and we don't even use all of that. Our big brain built guns and turbo engines, but where has that gotten us? You see, despite our cities, our governments, our wealth and our poverty, despite all we've created, people still drown in rivers.I don't mean to sound dower. I love a big city, wearing clothes and Starbucks as much as anyone. I just love rivers too. And when all is said and done, I admire the hudson river far more than I admire the New York City skyline. Maybe beause the river was there first and it will be there long after.

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