Bend in the River] [Lessons of
|A Bend in the River
The river turns here.
A stream feeds into the river. A tongue of bedrock extends to the water's edge. I walk along the smooth tongue of stone and lie flat on my stomach, and see my face reflected in the water. Below the mirrored surface, caddisflies labour within the stony nest they built around themselves. I purse my lips, kiss my face's reflection, suck in water as if through a straw.
A dipper flies like a bullet upstream, like a memory shooting backwards in time, to other autumns, other springs, other mountains, other rivers. My life reads like a map.
It was spring: buds were swelling, leaves were unrolling, trees were decorated with songbirds. I lay on my back, staring at the swirling grey skies, the silhouettes of tree limbs. The river had no name. My brother Mark lies next to me, staring at the same grey skies. Nothing was said, nothing happened. We did not come to some great conclusion, or have a revelation that would change the world.
Mark has been dead for a decade. I lie alone by another river, thousands of miles away, underneath those same grey skies. The alder leaves rattle with a breeze. I toss my memory into a cascade, watch it disappear into the foamy water, then settle at the bottom of a deep green pool, where a salmon slowly dies after spawning.
It's autumn: maples are yellowing, leaves rustle as I walk, the birds are forgetting their songs. Trees are losing their leaves earlier every year. Flowers are dying before they turn to fruit. Seasons should not change this fast.
But nothing happens. Not even time passes. I do not age. I'm still there, at that other river, at the same time I'm here. Like a topographic map that draws lines connecting identical elevations, my mind draws lines connecting similar moments.
My memory settles into the sediment at the bottom of the pool. I close my eyes as I lie on the cool bedrock. Time flows back and forth then freezes. Soon, I will stand and leave, follow the river downstream back to a busier place, but I will carry the moment with me.
The river turns here.
|Lessons of a Heron
I've never seen a greater expression of passion than there is within you. Within those innocent feathers of blue and white lies a complex of opposites, of extremes: love and hate, death and life, beauty and ugliness. You are Yin and Yang on stilts.
I've studied you long and hard, watched from a distance with binoculars trained on your every move. You step so purposefully, delicately. You are as graceful as a ballerina, as ruthless as a decorated war-hero. You carry your beak proudly. That long saber is always clean, though it has murdered countless times.
I've studied you long and hard because I must imitate you. I step into your feathery outfit, stand at the edge of a marsh in a light mist, motionless. Then, slowly stalk the pond edges, the shallow water. Each step my long legs raise out of the water (trying not to ripple the surface), then slowly insert it as smoothly back into the water. I hunt frogs for another purpose: for Science, not for survival and maybe that's why I never achieve your excellence. The frogs are alerted by the waves I make. I'm a clumsy heron.
Graceful and strong, feminine and masculine, you are impossible to capture in a cage of words: you live within the freedom of greys, while our language is either black or white. I want to understand you. I want to crawl inside you. I want to develop that stare, that stance, that slow, determined stalking. I want to stab at life as enthusiastically, as passionately as you do.
You never miss (at least not when I'm watching). You eye is keen - it pierces me. You crave blood as if it's a fine Merlot. Each stab brings up a frog. You swallow it. I watch the bulge travel down the long, graceful neck.
I anthropomorphize everything, despite being a scientist. All words are anthropomorphic. You cannot speak without anthropomorphizing. I cheer in victory for the heron and weep for the death of the frog. But how long into the decomposition of the body of the frog will it cease being a frog and start becoming part of the heron? Maybe the frog is already part of the heron, even before it is stabbed. And maybe, the insects that are eaten by the frog are also part of the heron. All of the insects buzzing at this moment are potentially part of the heron. Maybe it is silly to think we can separate the heron from the rest of the ecosystem. Maybe, this whole marsh is the heron, and as I watch, maybe I too become part of this phenomena we label, heron.
From In Defense of
by Patrick Loafman.
Copyright © 2002 Patrick Loafman. All Rights