This was one of those times for me. If this is your first occasion to be my guest, I hope you enjoy the piece, and stick around to sample some of the goodies.
Road To The World #2 (from February 12, 2009)
I would have liked more comfortable clothes, and would have gratefully lost the tie and brown wingtips, but I was only on my lunch-hour. There was no place to sit, either, just a long dry banked bar of rock and gravel beside that reach of the Molalla river. I didn’t need to sit. It was enough to be able to get here, five minutes from my office at the cable company, cross the bridge, park, eat a sandwich, and walk a few minutes. A half a dozen tall poplars up the bank a ways were steadily shedding big yellow leaves into the river. In the gusts they shook into the water by the bushel basket. That breeze lifted the hair from my forehead, and grabbed my cigaret smoke. It was warm, and the wind and the overcast, the falling leaves, the precious minutes of privacy all connected with something inside of me. It made me happy to be there, and I wasn’t a very happy man in those days. I was working hard and making money for people who didn’t much like me, in those days, wearing business-lite drag and commuting a half hour twice a day on 1-5. Coming home to a woman who wasn’t very happy either, and two little boys doing their best to find a way in between. It all made the river bank an attractive place. I would have stayed there longer if I could, but I meant to be dutiful even if I wasn’t always. As I walked and smoked I looked at the Molalla and the tolerated wildness of its banks with hunger, like I could ingest it by looking, like I could keep part of it. The river was swift there, lightly rippled, and spread out wide for its size on the shallow cobble and gravel bed. Water over stones makes me think deep thoughts. Or think I’m thinking deep thoughts, which may not be the same. I saw the leaves fall, and it started me thinking about how each of those leaves would make that dramatic little end of life trip exactly once: flutter, flip, flop, into the river and down you go. Like me, of course. But then I really looked into the water, and was surprised, (and then surprised by that). Because first I saw leaves on top of the river, nice big fat yellow poplar leaves boating along, pushed by the breeze and pulled by the current, and some maple from further up, and some alder in there too, but then like a reflection or something funny in a mirror I finally saw what I had missed: the millions and millions camouflaged brown like the rocks of the river bed, leaves floating just beneath the surface, moving quickly at the rivers speed, the river's body thick with them. So. The yellow leaves falling. The leaves floating high and fresh on the surface. The brown and wet uncounted below. It’s a wonder I got any of my job done that afternoon. I did though. I did something. Christ have mercy: “… no hungry generations tread thee down. The voice I hear this passing night was heard in ancient day by emperor and clown; the selfsame song that made a path through the sad heart of Ruth as she stood in tears amid the alien corn.” Keats of course, from the Nightingale. Now some fourteen or fifteen years later, (2009) and another Oregon winter, not fall, but late winter, and I sit here writing with another very bad cold. A bad cold I’m watching close for the pneumonia that got me the last two winters. Do I count my blessings? I try to. Do I hear that voice? Often. Do I believe there is that much difference between me and a poplar leaf? I try. I try to have faith that each of us leaves – poplar or vine maple or alder, rushing along brown and silent under the swift river – have our names written on us in clear block capitals that do not fade or rub off, names finally read and spoken aloud with love. Amen.
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Amen, indeedy, and here it is 2021 already. Turns out quitting smoking really helps with upper respiratory stuff - I've got six precious years clean from tobacco as of December 2020, and all kinds of little health things got better. I still think about death...