Around here, the weekend started out with a good, slow rain, which we desperately needed. For me, that water song is sweet music anytime. I am a lover of water and have always been. I grew up along a little creek, waking, and sleeping, and playing, and dreaming to its changing rhythms.
After a rain, the man-children and I can never resist checking to see if “their” little creek in the back pasture has risen to temporary river status. These days, we just stand on the bank and look, but there was a time not so long ago when those water levels were critical, all-important, all-consuming. No water meant no swimming hole, no campouts, no fishing, no long afternoons of campfires and hotdogs and s’mores until dark.
Even now, when I visit this place alone on my evening walks and stand and listen as the water passes by, I hear voices. I hear high-pitched laughter and double-dog dares. I hear the splash of inner tubes. I hear, “Mama, I got a fish!” I hear the rapid breaths of a child running back to camp with a treasure found among the river gravel — a fossil, an arrowhead, a lizard captured in two hands. The very first lightning bug of evening. Do we have something we can keep him in? Or should we just set him free?
This place is alive with memories, but even more than that, it’s alive with something deeper. Something longer-lasting. A river teaches lessons. Those lessons become the bones, and blood, and marrow of children raised near water, and earth, and sky. I hope they’ve been passed to the next generation, these lessons from a river.
Take time to sit and listen. Stop. Stop rushing. Close your eyes for a moment. Listen. What lies beyond the constant white noise? They are there, the transient sounds of life. A bird flitting by, a breeze stirring leaves, a doe passing in the shadows of the wood. The sounds change moment to moment, never the same twice. Everything is passing. The water, the creatures, the day. Each moment is unique along a river. Each moment is unique in life. A moment unappreciated is a moment lost.
Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet. Go for it. Don’t let fear keep you on the bank. Trust the water. Trust yourself. To experience something new, to soar, to fly, you must first let go of where you are now.
Look beneath the surface. Don’t be fooled by what’s on the outside. Look beyond the ripples and mirrored reflections. So much hides beneath the surface of a river. The skittering of tiny creatures, the silver flash of minnows, an ancient license plate washed from somewhere far away, a shimmering quartz crystal, a bit of fool’s gold. The truest form of all things is found beyond what can be seen at first glance.
See with new eyes. The river is always changing. It changes with the seasons, with the days, with the hours, with the cycles of drought and flood, with blooming and dying, and blooming again. Where there was bland gravel yesterday, today there may be gifts — a fossil washed ashore, a wild rose bursting forth, a butterfly. Don’t assume that what was ordinary yesterday will be ordinary again. Give each day and each season rapt attention. Expect something extraordinary.
Take a friend along. Value your solitude on occasion, but when possible, share your time with old friends and open yourself to new ones. Reveal your secret hiding places, invite others in, offer shelter, offer beauty, offer comfort and companionship. An experience shared is an experience multiplied, a memory made. It is in connecting with others that we broaden ourselves beyond one life into many.
Value the journey. Don’t rush. Don’t focus far ahead. Look down. Look at where you are. Don’t be afraid to walk aimlessly, to feel the water, to let the current slow your steps. The goal isn’t to reach the end of the river as quickly as possible, but know the river for what it is, to take in all that it has to offer. Understanding a river takes time. Devote the time that’s needed.
Don’t be limited by what you can see. Dream, imagine, pretend. Take a creek and create a river. Take a twig and create a boat. Take a log and create a raft. Sail not from bank to bank, but from far sea to farther sea. Take a dragonfly and fashion a dragon. Climb aboard and soar. It is never too early or too late in the day to daydream.
These are the lessons I carry with me as a sudden rain shower dabs the river’s surface, chasing us up the banks yet another time. We hurry home, laughing, these man-boys and I. We leave river and know in some innate way that we’ll never see it again. We will come back to this place, but when we do, a new river will be waiting. Water coming, water going, leaves drifting, something growing, something fading.
It is impossible to step twice in the same river. The river is always changing. It cannot be preserved, other than in memory.
But the lessons are ours to keep. And in the end, it’s the lessons that matter most.