Beside the River

Some days you don’t know when you need to be beside a river. Until you’re there.

Times when you become quite wrapped up in worldly traps and concerns. Times like we’re now facing as a worldwide species under attack from an unseen and unpredictable virus, a threat so small yet so huge we can’t see it nor know how to combat it. Times like now.

For me sitting along a river doesn’t seem as an isolation. Does this makes me different?

If truth was to be revealed, I didn’t turn my bucket upside down for a front row seat alongside the river because I was seeking meditative moments. It was more selfish, for I did so because I was hungry for a requisite first springtime meal of pan-fried channel catfish. Over the weekend we had stopped at the local bait shop for our new licenses and somehow ended up back in the car with a carton of earthworms. An underpinning of the subconscious? After spending a portion of the day at the computer preparing for an upcoming board meeting, I decided to go fetch that meal. And I know of a place right on the bend of the nearby Pomme de Terre.

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One of the first creatures seen was the Belted Kingfisher, that took a perch on the bend with views both up and down river.

I was not well prepared. Or, should I say, organized. I had my carton of worms and cell phone. My river rod wasn’t in the car. Finding it took a good 15 minutes. So instead of leaving here at 3 o’clock it was now a quarter past. Since I mainly fly fish I didn’t have my river tackle box, so another 15 minutes or so was spent searching for that. Naturally it was where I had first looked, though it was upside down and hidden beneath some stuff. The edge of one corner wasn’t enough for proper identification. Just as I was ready to back from the garage I noticed the bucket, so I stopped and went to fetch it. Sitting on a bucket far outweighs standing alongside a river. Especially at my age. By now it was 20-to, and the river bend was a half hour distant.

Some kind soul from either the county or township had backed a weed-whacker over the course from the gravel road to the river bank, so it didn’t take long to climb down to the river edge to cast a line. Fishing for channel catfish takes patience for you bait up and try to place your bait on a cut of current and wait. As much as you try to find them, it is actually the other way around. Using their sensory barbels, also known as “whiskers,” they come to you on their own murky schedule … usually taking their own, sweet time. You try to find some slow water coming back toward the current where fish can lurk for a passing meal. Catfishing means you mostly wait, and the waiting gives you cause to look around. It was while looking around that I began to breathe and take note of the surroundings, that I realized my need all along was to be along a river.

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All around buds were breaking out in the trees lining the river, adding Georges Seurat styled dotings of red and yellow liveliness to this background of remnant bleakness and brownness of the past forestal winter.

Moments into the quietness a pair of wood ducks winged by within the awakening canopy. This was my wakeup call. A small wader took a bath on a spit of wadable mud, then flew off right past me down river before returning several moments later for more wading and bathing. Its colors were much like a killdeer, though it was a smaller bird. Next came a belted kingfisher with its dippy dive of flight. The blue and whiteness clamped onto a branch across the river, choosing sightlines at the bend for both up and down river, the colors a contrast to all around it.

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Flitting in and out was a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, adding a trilling lift to the river’s symphony.

Below my feet in the river itself, small rivulets provided a Zen-like sound. This is not the rhythmic crashing of a surf but rather a burbling ­— quite soft and as equally hypnotic. Clear waters rolling over small, river-rounded weathered stones. Across the way, beneath the bridge, yet just distant enough that the sound blended with rather than overwhelm, was a louder rumble as the previous burbling waters now crashed around a bridge buttress before crescendoing over a log. Two completely distinct water sounds. Distinct yet symphonic. Then I noticed the “barks” of pheasants in the nearby restored native prairie, and from downriver came the honking of a pair of excited geese. Yellow-rumped Warblers added a trilling lift, while across the river and down the ravine came the staccato syncopated drumming of an unseen woodpecker. It was a natural spring symphony worthy of Aaron Copland!

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Almost magical, an ever changing reflection on a small, abandoned oxbow right on the bend.

In the midst of all of these sounds and sights of nature a five pound channel cat came to the hand, though intended, it now seemed an unexpected bonus. All around buds were breaking out in the trees lining the river, adding Georges Seurat styled dotings of red and yellow liveliness to this background of remnant bleakness and brownness of the past forestal winter. Suddenly there was a sound. Somehow a pair of wood ducks had landed unseen just around the bend, and by standing and peeking through the underbrush I could see them fighting the current as they weaved their way around a deadfall.

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After hearing an interesting sound I found a pair of Wood Ducks had landed just around the bend, and I stood to see them through the underbrush.

I wondered if all of this sound and beauty had been here all along and if it was me who needed to adjust in order to notice, or if it was nature that had somehow adjusted to an intruder in its midst before coming out of hiding? In my similar intrusions into the woods it always seemed so deathly quiet for several long moments … seemingly a half hour or so … before a nuthatch or chickadee flutters to perch on a nearby branch, or that a red squirrel suddenly full of courage races across the detritus to scurry up an oak; that above it all is a redtail hawk drifting in the bluish sky. It seemed that way here, along the river.

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This bend of river on the Pomme de Terre is a special place for a stranger to allow his senses to align with surrounding nature.

Whether sitting in the duff with my back against a tree in a forest on a warm, sunny autumn afternoon, or along the bank of the Pomme de Terre river come spring, I feel I must use the time and patience of meditation to fully appreciate all within my surroundings … of how I as the stranger may comfortably fit into this momentary and meditative slice of nature. It seems that in the silence I’m accepted, and in unlabored breathing my senses eventually align with the surrounding nature. What better place than on a bend of the river?