Swimming

She goes into the river, swimming, where no one sees the flow of tears in the rush of mountain water. She swims with the salmon, returning, and returning yet again.

She seeks pools and eddies and wild current to sweep her away.

And through it all, her tears soak into the river, flowing, slowing, returning.

I go into the trees, tears soaking into forest floor, seeping between roots and returning, rising up through moss and roots and heartwood.

Rising through leaves to air, to clouds, to rain.

Rain to fall like tears into the river.

She goes into the river, swimming, when sun seeps into the depths, when snow falls, when turning leaves twist in currents. And in the water, in all our tears, she sheds her skin, sheds her grief, and for a moment, is borne away.

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Owls And Rivers

Owls, in some myths, are the keepers of stories. My sister once had a vision of me surrounded by owls during a period when, due to illness, I couldn’t write. I clung to that vision of hers as if it were mine, as if all those owls promised words would return.

I read a poem today. It grabbed my heart as hard as a poem I once read years ago. Both were about the river, with potent imagery. The one today was by a young woman, Annie, who has never written poetry. The one years ago was by a close friend, Sabrina. What ties these two women together besides poems about the river? Annie is part of the family who just lost Sam to the river. Sabrina is Sam’s mother.

Is. Not was. Always his mother.

Those two poems are stirring inside. I can feel their power, like wind through feathers, like strong wings lifting upwards. Their owls, taking flight, carrying the spirit of their words out over that whitewater. Returning their stories to the river. To float forever with Sam.

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For those of you who don’t know Sabrina, she’s a river spirit. She swims the wild river year round. She floats held up by the foam of whitewater. And she once wrote about how the light changes under water when summer turns to fall. How the river changes with the seasons. Until she wrote that, I’d never given any thought to light under water.

Annie’s poem is a tribute to Sam, but also a tribute to Sabrina. She talks about how Sabrina swallowed the river and a drop grew to become Sam. How the river runs through their veins.

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Now I sit here thinking of light and water, of rivers that give and take, of rivers that always, always, change the land around us, change the very mountains, change our lives.

Change Is Just Behind the Mountains by Sabrina Grafton

Late summer light comes with more orange mixed in, the mountains that line this valley glow with it early and late in the day with the middle fading through yellow to light blue.

The river’s lost most of the current in our favorite swimming hole, green water is shallower and drifts past without much serious purpose in heading downstream.

Not like late fall water, which is all fattened up with ongoing rain and moves like it really has somewhere to go or the spring flow-runoff mixed with rain that belts towards the mouth, forty miles or so downstream.

Now it’s the slow time, before salmon return and the sprinkling of vine maple leaves that season the water with drifting red flakes.

When the rains move in the river water cools and even if the heat of summer returns for a late few days the river has already turned, readied itself for the next season.

There’s a few days, right at the end of summer when the days move so slowly that time is very nearly stopped and, the truth is, fall is hurtling toward you, unheeded but speeding on just the same.

Poised underwater, eyes open to the greenish cast that surrounds me

I glide silently along, just above the textured river bottom which is dappled in light that exactly reflects the pattern of the waves on the surface above.

Completely at peace

Fall can come

I surface, then quickly return to the green world below

To the bliss that is a perfect day in the river.

Today the wind blew steadily as I took my plunge, just before dark, at our favorite swimming hole.

The town bridge arches over the water like a great, breaching, concrete fish and a deep humming song like Tibetan tones resonated from the cables that stretch to the peak of the arch

Sounds so low that they seemed to come from the river itself

Deep songs of change

Weather’s coming in, the old timers say

I shiver as I dress, content with what I’ve had

But hoping that the mountains will catch the clouds up for one day longer

And give me one more perfect day.

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A Vietnam Vet

My sister-in-law is dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the flooding. While nowhere near as devastating, I was reminded of the first flood I went through after moving to the woods. Which reminded me of the first Vietnam vet I met.

Flooding in this area hits hard and fast. Whitewater rivers are forced between canyons and boulders and drop steeply, unlike the farming area where I grew up. There, the water rises slowly and spreads out, and sticks around. A whitewater flood takes trees and houses and roads, and then drops fast.

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Someone’s trailer a couple days after a flood

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Our road after a flood widened it

This first one flooded the road I lived on. The road is two lanes through the forest with no shoulders and just big trees up to the edges. It was night as I came home and out there it’s pitch black at night. No streetlights or house lights. Just my headlights in the little Subaru Justy, reflecting off moving water.

I got out of the car to see if I could tell how deep the water was, or if I could make it across. There were tree branches floating in the reflected light. As I stood there in the dark, a big man came out of the trees and stepped up beside me.

“I don’t think you’re going to make it,” he said.

I seem to remember being frozen, probably not even breathing.

“But I’ll go across and check for you.”

And off he went, wading through the moving water, followed by a dog that also came out of the trees.

On the other side, he raised a flashlight, waving me forward, and disappeared back into the trees. I drove across slowly, with water sloshing up high on the car, knees shaking, wondering if that had really just happened.

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The river on a calm summer day. See those rocks in the back? They’re underwater in a flood.

He lived rough somewhere in the woods during those years. I regularly came across him, with his dog Katie, when I’d be out walking old logging roads or trails. He’d materialize from the trees, share my company for a bit, and then fade away.

Most times he was in this world. But occasionally something would send him back there, back into that war. One time it was a small airplane flying over. He told me not to be worried, that it wouldn’t stand up against his anti-aircraft missiles, and pulled out this huge old revolver.

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The logging road where the revolver was pulled.

Living off-grid at the time, we had an outhouse. Since I was the only one living there, and the views of mountains and ridge were beautiful, I rarely shut the door.

Until the day, out walking with him, and he told me he’d found an old trail that crossed the ridge above my place, and how he could see our whole place from up there.

I closed the door after that.

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The ridge. The outhouse was on the other side of the cabin.

 

Eventually, someone got Veteran’s Affairs involved, and he was set up with counseling and resources, and even a little house in a nearby town. I missed him stepping out of the woods and walking with me.

One day, a couple years later, I was ‘down below’ at a grocery store and here he was, still big and bushy-bearded, pushing a cart. I saw people looking sideways at this man. I saw how they sidled away from him when he came right up to me and said ‘do you know me?’.

Of course I knew him. I gave him a big hug, asked after Katie, who was elderly and waiting in his friend’s car. I asked about his little house, which he thought was okay most of the time. But some days, he said, he had to get out into the woods.

I left, wondering if he’d found someone else to walk with out there, or if he remained in solitude with his past.

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