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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Flush days

May 28, 1980

“It’s nice the see this place in day light,” Ben says as he puffs his pipe.
He means of course bright light rather than the dim place this river had been for months, a dried up, dismal landscape that had seemed more like the surface of the moon than a place of flowing water – drought exposing its ribs so as to look like a starving version of the man William Carlos Williams claimed he could see in the Great Falls downtown.
In spring, when wet, this place comes alive, and upstream – maybe as far west as the mythical Lake Passaic – April had indeed brought showers so we could see May flowers popping up around here.
I remember my first time coming here with my grandfather and how amazed I was by what I saw, not the Great Falls here, but a tiny eight or ten foot variety that made me claim it as my own, with white water tumbling over it down onto the flat surface filled with stones below – and moving fast again towards the arches of the Outwater Lane Bridge down stream, a twisting current that made me think of it as a silver serpent and still does.
My boyhood imagination, along with the nasty tales Leonard Suresky told about the river made me actually believe real monsters lived among the trees or in the deeper water, so that I gripped my grandfather’s hands until my knuckles turned white.
But if there is a beast here, it is in the flow of water and how it beats the shores with both fists when it is in full bloom, as it is now, a lush, flush powerful water that sometimes – if the sun is right – looks green, reflecting the trees that are only just beginning to blossom as well. My favorite trees, the mulberries, just showing off their new green dress, while my second favorite tree, the willows, barely turn green at all, or a variety that seem godlike and golden, even before autumn turns their leaves to bright yellow.
Geese and duck float now over places they waddled only a few months ago, looking cleaner than they did, though the water hides their legs and washes away the mud from their feathers. They dip their beaks into the surface and come up with silver fish they had to dig in mud before to get.
But they are still restless, wondering when exactly the good times will end and force them back into old nasty habits they only reluctantly take on. Survival is a mean mistress that makes us all do things we might be shamed of in better times.
For a short time many years ago, I lived homeless on the streets, begging for coins and feeding off the kindness of a donut maker who gave me the stale end of the day remains. I still hate lemon-filled donuts on that account.
I laugh at Ben, and tell him beauty is a thin veneer, and beneath its surface lurks dangers unseen, claws that will rip a man to pieces if he makes the wrong move. Even the water is not innocent, and I recall two boys who drowned in the puffed up water when it first came, kids, who like me at their age, presumed they could handle nature and assumed the landscape would remain unchanged, and did not account for the deeper water when they waded out into it.
When Dave and I came here, we survived by luck, making the same mistakes those kids made but somehow saved from the worst. We were even more foolish, looking for the big dangers that did not exist, like wild wolves, while failing to see until almost too late, this loose bit of stone or the glass over which our bare feet walked, mistaking sometimes the broken pieces of soda bottles for jewels some imaginary pirate left – or the pearls my grandfather once told me actually could be found here in oysters the size of dinner plates.
We found no treasure – or at least not the kind we could bring to the bank.
But I still come here, searching not for fortune, but for peace, and strangely in the midst of seasons, be they flush or not, I find it, and so does Ben between each puff of his pipe.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

End of season

Nov. 22, 1980

Five days until Thanksgiving and the loudest sound here comes from the falls, inflated by recent heavy rain so that it seems to sing of spring just as winter threatens us.
All other sound seems muffled, even the persistent and annoying flow of traffic down River Drive.
The wind alone seems unbridled, whispering in my ears with its chill voice as it pushes old cardboard boxes along the roadside, boxes that catch on the trunks of trees or exposed weeds for a moment and then move on.
The wind catches the feather duster willows, rattling their already yellowed leaves, casting many into the slow flow of water at my feet, unaffected n this eddy by the foam flowing down from the falls.
Frost dots the river banks and creeps out across slow water like the edges of some child’s coloring book filled in first at the edges before the serious freeze starts.
Most things here have already surrendered to the inevitable, closing up or burying deep for when the snow and ice seals up this world. The falls are always last to accept fate, and slow on even after all else has succumbed, its gurgling voice smothered with ice before it concedes
I feel at loss this time of year, aching for signs of life among the dead and dying, for some omen that life will reappear later when all the dying is done, knowing down deep this world will seem different, stranger as a result, suspecting that the me that sees that rebirth will be different and stranger, too – and I am as reluctant as the falls to give in.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beware the badger

 (from Imitation Nature)
July 20, 1980

The badger is a very clever animal, having learned over the course of millions of years, how to set himself up for life – holes in the ground to live out the day, freedom above ground at night, with no natural enemies to give him grief.
He’s always elusive and wary, and very rarely seen – though I’m sure someone must see him from time to time to know he still exists – still alive and healthy.
Sometimes, he shares his hole with a fox or even a rabbit; sometimes he lives alone.
Unlike humans which are the only beast who cares to bother him in a destructive way, the badger likes his solitude.
He isn’t the kind to sit out front of the local tavern and ogle ladies that stroll by.
Bear-like, he is usually very quiet, reacting to danger or excitement with a series of violent snorts. His hair tends to stand end which makes him blow up to twice his normal size.
Like a human, he has five toes – which distinguishes is track from that of a dog’s (which is a four-legged animal that often goes “bow wow” which I’ll explain later when I’m good and drunk.”
The badger has a short tail, short but powerful legs, and when seen may be waddling down a dark path.
If it happens to get attacked by a foolish enemy, he has very sharp teeth with which to strike back, and knows how to defend himself at need.
He should never be manhandled, as humans are wont to do just for the fun of it.
For the most part, he avoids humans and tends to enjoy his own rituals – unlike my best friend, Hank, who had a lot of habits, such as over staying his welcome despite many hints for him to leave. He lives in a hole, too, but there the similarity ends.
The badger has a black and white striped face, and has thick warm fur when healthy.
In other words, the badger can be a tough hombre but lives a peaceful life when left alone, but can turn and fight and destroy as well as any beast of the wild.