Saturday, April 2, 2011
The River's Edge
This morning I rode down to Algonkian Park, along the Potomac about a mile from my home. The day was cool, the sky overcast as rain threatened. I stopped along the trail and sat on a bench for some time, just watching the river run by.
As a child I played and swam in one of its tributaries, Seneca Creek. We lived closer to the creek than I live from the river now. We swam in small pools, and caught crayfish and dragonflies along its banks. We rode the rapids and traveled miles on air mattresses.
In winter there was once a section still enough for ice skating, and when it wasn't cold enough there was the abandoned Mill Pond We would sled to the bottom of the hill and the measure of ride quality was how far across the bridge you came to a stop. And on that bridge I proposed marriage.
I grew up along this river. I've swam and fished and waterskied in its soft cool water. I've crossed the river many times at White's Ferry, aboard the General Jubal A. Early. I've spent many happy days at Great Falls Park and along the C&O Canal. My father's ashes are spread nearby.
Today I watched a small flock of geese flying silently upstream, so near the water their wingtips almost touched. An eagle soared above the treetops. As the river rolled quietly by a fish flailed and broke the surface - and was gone. I thought about the life of the fish beneath the surface.
If he stops swimming, he coasts and life is easy. But the current will carry him through the Great Falls. If he survives, he will eventually be carried to the bay, where he cannot survive in the brackish water. So he must swim to survive, even if he wants to stay in the same, comfortable place. Yet the place never really is the same. The current just flows through.
On the way back, I got caught in the rain. And hail. Wet jeans. Hail was accumulating on my balding pate through the holes in my helmet like a frickin snow cone and I was suffering from brain freeze. As I prepared to curse the heavens, I looked up instead and realized how glad I was to be swimming.