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Thursday, August 15, 2013

True friends?

July 6, 1980

The river runs wide here, glistening with the golden kiss of the rising sun.
The reeds, geese and gulls play in the wind like children.
The storm has ended.
The sky is crisp blue against which each limb and leaf casts a sharp image, all too much in focus.
But the deluge has left the river bloated and it trudges along, heavy with the additional burden it much deliver south to Newark Bay.
Only the small falls upstream where the driver drops seems to echo the turmoil the night brought us, a soft roar where the bulk of the river plunges before moving on – the stony bottom where fishermen and kids sometimes stand knee-deep in wet too high to step onto and still stay dry or free from fear of falling in.
The river seems less significant, too, because I come straight from a weekend dancing with the sea, and still hear the rumble of the surf in my head. Even the gulls here seem tame by comparison.
I have always loved the sea, settling for my daily ritual with the river whenever the sea was too far to reach.
Yes, I know this place better than I know the ocean, the flip flop of sultry water against the shore near by feet, the webbed back of the cat fish feeding at the bottom – even the lazy ducks who pickup tidbits from between the reeds.
And grand as the ocean and its bay are, they feel remove in more than distance, cold and indifferent as kings and queens, while the river is a crowded street filled with common folks just like me – old friends in an old neighborhoods, who know me nearly as well as I know them.
We spend each morning renewing our acquaintance, each time I pause in my jog for coffee. Their habits are my habits as if I created them each day in my head.
I know the toad that croaks at me each time I kick up dust sliding down the embankment from the street to the dock – his complaint coming between heavy gulps. If too disturbed, he hops off his stone into the water. But often he is back the next, morning to greed me and if not him then one of his numerous relations.
I know the geese, too, whose pale shapes float across the dark river pursued by their own reflections, and – this time of year – their young, spinning and bobbing as they cry for help, each assembled in the order of their birth.
I know the brown geese less well because they come and go with the seasons, shyer perhaps, intimidated by human presence in a world nature claims at its own.
But the mallards are no strangers, even though I see them infrequently, panhandlers who refused to believe I have no buttered roll to share with them, grumbling as they hobble back to the water to pursue less appealing killifish that flitter just beneath the surface like insects.
The gulls, of course, come and go, insincere friends who pretend a relationship with me they have no time to establish, arriving here on the wind or on rumor of food, then returning to the bay, harbor or ocean when life here proves too slow or less rich than they need.
In high summer, we get less frequent guest, yet true friends. Those I know best I find here, too, in winter, when over my steaming coffee, I see their breath against the gray sky and frosted surface of the frozen river.

Yet then or now, no place but here feels quite like home, certainly not the ever elusive sea.

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