River

by paulgibby

Daily I walk my son’s dog, Remy, to the Little Miami River near me. It’s a past-time, a respite from her cage for Remy, and a bit of exercise for my arthritic knee.

It is always refreshing, and I realize, always new in some way. Gradually the weather has warmed up, and the once barren, cold (and frequently muddy) patches along the trail have become green. Buttercups erupted first. Now grass and weeds have grown up and the trail has nearly closed off with growth.

The river itself has varied from a brown torrent that came up over part of the path at one point, to a dry puddle in one of the forks. There was a tire stuck on an island one day. A few days later the rising waters buried it, or swept it away.

As I looked into the river one day I realized that I was looking at a concrete representation of an abstract idea: “change”. A river is change happening right in front of your eyes. At any given moment, it seems to be a constant, and in fact, when you reflect on a particular river, the Mississippi, the Little Miami, the Amazon, it is something that’s been around for a long, long time — longer than any one of us in fact. Yet, daily, it changes. In less than a day, it can change. Once dry, rocky channels become filled with fast-flowing, roiling, muddy water. Days later, a vibrant channel becomes a pond as that particular channel drops its level to  a point that it no longer flows back to the main stream. It becomes stagnant, putrid, fishy-smelling. Then just a rocky place again.

But the main stream itself flows constantly — before I and Remy arrive, and after we have left — all night carrying water from points north to the Ohio River, then to the Mississippi, then to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is a process. It is entropy in motion, water seeking a lower level.

And as the water moves, it carries bits of debris, natural and man-made. Concrete blocks somehow, apparently very slowly, roll downstream. Tires, clothes, water bottles, plastic strips. Some get deposited in trees that sprout up in the higher boundaries of the river. And they stay there. Tree limbs and snakes get washed downstream.

The stuff that sails past, animals and trash, that is just temporary — unless you are an animal or a canoeist or a piece of trash, or a bug on a floating limb — flotsam and jetsam.

But to behold change in action — that is a wonderful thing. In our lives, with our friends and loved ones, we are often so close that we don’t realize the changes of the rivers of our lives as they are happening. It’s only when we can’t visit for a long time, and then we renew an old friendship, or see someone after a long time that we can appreciate what time has wrought.

If we could only see the waters of our lives moving, right in front of our faces, how riveting and blessed — and perhaps scary — would that feel.

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