The water is murky today, a brown milk curdling in a late June heat, reflecting the puffy pillow-like clouds in the sky, soft but as untouchable as the swab of cotton inside a medicine bottle, always just out of reach, evading any attempt to take hold of.
This is always a tough time of year, this change of season when spring bleeds into summer, and the bright sun I ached for all winter turns hostile and mean, and I get lost in the middle of the changes, never knowing where I am. Sometimes I feel like one of those old moving images people used to create from a series of cards, each one slightly different from the last so that the still figure seems to be moving when he really isn’t – each moment frozen as if in ice despite the heat. Images of spring change with each card so that unless I flip all the cards quickly, I don’t actually see the change until it’s already happened.
And still, I continue my quests to this place, my feet dragging me to the river’s edge seeking something to salvage out of the wreckage of the old life, the mills that no longer operate as they once did, the pollution swirling in the eddies in unnatural colors, deciding wildlife until fish float to the surface and ducks crawl up onto shore to die.
Above me, swiftly moving in arches against the bright light or hidden in the folds of leaves, the birds twitter, loud conversations to which I am not privy, so I do not know if they laugh or cry, complain to celebrate the change of season that so disturbs me.
The branches hang over me, flush green with leaves, like thousands of hands with translucent palms held out for me to read the veins to some fortune that is mine not theirs, a pattern of life I have no way to translate since I come here to this place wounded again, as I have always come at these times, seeking for them to cure me because I cannot cure myself.
Normally, fisherman dot the banks with their dark shapes, their determination painted on their stern faces, dressed in hip boots and tangled lines, struggling to escape the webs of fallen branches under which the best fish hide, but they like me come here not for fish, but for solace, seeking to catch some dream that has eluded us, some imaginary big fish that always gets away.
The water is filled with such illusions, of things moving under the surface I can never quite make out, creeping shapes at the bottom that I can’t define, ghost-like, their motion often reveal with the movement of reeds, and sometimes, I feared that something evil would leap out at me if I leaned in too close to look, startled by nothing or something or maybe something buried deep in me.
Sometimes, the fishermen laughed at my foolishness, asking what I was afraid of, telling me the river is only a river and we bring to it our own fears, and that if we let it be it will let us be, the dark things feeding on their own, leaving those on this side of the light unscathed. And yet, deep in their eyes I saw the same fear I felt, and the same need, their quest was my quest seeking something here that the ordinary world could not provide, if not an answer, then some truth that escapes us because we do not take the time to look long enough or deep enough inside the river our ourselves, or to fully understand what it is that lurks beneath the surface and what makes the reeds shiver without wind or current, and where we fit into all of this.
And for a long moment, these men stare out at the moving reeds and I stare out, and we share some moment of mutual fear and need that we could not share in any other place or at any other time, and then, I move on, enduring this change of season, waiting for when the heat fades and the leaves fall, and the strange comfort of winter arrives with its layer of ice, which will hide all of this from me until the next change of season come with the thaw next spring into summer.