“Schew” Schew!” My son is shooting laser guns at I don’t know what enemy again this morning as I empty the dishwasher, and I ask him to stop, for the second time. As usual he’s up earlier than anyone and has been listening to a “Star Wars” audiobook. “How about some music, JP, like the birds are doing outside? You can sing. All that shooting bothers me.” Reminds me of death and violence, though I know for him it’s some kind of ingrained need to prepare for action, ready his instincts, move his body, be a boy, so I should be tolerant. The mental picture I work up of boys and men cultivating gardens and making art doesn’t really cut it as an alternative to crawling through swamps with guns after aliens who have sworn to annihilate all our villages. But how about clambering over houses and schools under construction, hammering together beams and messing with clanging pipes and welding torches? Why can’t we train them all up with that instead of the killing part? “Bob the Builder” and “John Deere Machines” cartoon being a good start, but what happened to the woodworking classes beyond age twelve? Useful Lifetime Skills, make way for Common Core. Because we need masses and masses of computer programmers to feed the kind of companies my husband works for, who pore over line upon line of code and manipulate masses of cell phone user data in an attempt to gain an edge on the other company doing the same thing. As personal information slips through the floorboards and gets pilfered by…aliens. Solving the world’s problems with technology, such as, why is my computer frozen again so I can’t access my next door neighbor’s morning Instagram post, or find the phone number of my dentist, or whether someone is defrauding my bank account from Nigeria?
And I say, can we start some banks, insurance companies, and school systems where the data is minimal and kept strictly local, maybe in file cabinets or big binders, or a few offline digital systems that a thief can only access by breaking a window and opening the safe? That an employee can’t even take home on a thumb drive to sell to the highest bidder? And the NSA is complaining now that some of the social media giants want to make users happy by allowing encrypt messages that even the government can’t access. I’m trying to apply this rubric to my activities: Who can find out, anyone in the entire world with cyberskills, or only those who happen to look out their windows or over into my shopping cart or overhear my voice in real time? The decision whether to replace our back yard fence with a closed wood one or open wire grill seems silly in comparison–do I really want to keep secrets from my good and kindly neighbors when strangers already know so much?
This morning the air was different. How much of that was conveyed to me subconsciously by the difference in this morning’s bird song as I rose from the pool of sleep, my soul slowly returning from that dream about escaping someone beloved but not very safe? But there was also the dingling of my small wind chimes, the shhh of the big weeping willow and fir trees, an auditory foreground outcompeting this time the distant sound of early freeway traffic several miles to the east. A clean, cool breeze off the water just audible, and the ticking of a clock.
My first thought was of mornings at my maternal grandmother’s house in New Brunswick, the thrill of waking up there on a July morning knowing the tide would be in on the river shore, where there was sand instead of the muddy, weedy ground further out. The brilliant sunshine would be warming the shallows except up under the sandstone banks where scaly fir trees leaned out. My brothers and i would bolt our cereal, argue over who got to use the big surf board first, and where was the small one, and could we go down to the river now? Annoyed at the necessity of wearing shoes through the rising hay and thistles, brushing spit bug nests along our calves and enduring the prickle of dead thistle leaves caught in between flop flop and sole. When we were little, a parent would have to accompany us for safety, and parents were in the habit of sticking around the house reading and drinking coffee or something boring like that. Grammy, or course, couldn’t come, with her stiff joints and fragile frame. Though now I wonder if we should have found a way, as I believe she would have enjoyed watching us wade, and how many memories did she have of growing up doing the same? We never asked her.
Sometimes I long so much for a river that I can’t stand it. But not just a river park, a picnic or day’s trip, a river of my own, or at least a place on the shore to put a cabin. The ocean is a necessity, of course, and should not be too far–with islands, preferably. But a river moves me. It brings so much, and washes so much away, yet holds on to everything important. Out of the shadows come the minnows, if I stand still, nibble my toes, and flip their tails in unison, flashing away as take a step in the velvety shallows. The river shrimps materialize and shoot several feet on either side as I walk and disappear again in a mist of fine sand. There may be beetles and butterflies and apples and raccoon hideaways and even a natural spring on the shore and in the woods nearby, but what can compare with a river? How can I help but feel that, having been bequeathed with the experiences of two rivers, one visited only a handful of times, and the other every summer? Both are out of range now, thousands of miles away, one owned by my aging uncle and aunt, probably later by their children, and the other even farther away, perhaps with some shoreline still in my father’s family, but I live here now.
I live here now. And as I aspire to end my sentimental journeys and laments on a note of hope and good intentions, I affirm the presence of two or three perfectly good rivers here. I only feel the need of a guide, someone who would not only not be put out but would delight in helping me get acquainted, showing me where to get my feet wet, cast a line, launch a canoe.
It occurred to me that I’d expressed some river longing other posts, such as River, and this, If I had a river, which I checked to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself too much. I noticed that the second one was written exactly one year ago today. And so I declare this day, June 11, to be River Appreciation Day. May you find your flow, see good things coming down and be able to experience a cleansing, healing, refreshment in the river of your life today.