Monday, November 29, 2010

Following the river

The little square house we lived in when we first came to Thunder Bay sat on the top of a steep hill that abruptly fell away to the river below. It was January when we arrived and the river was frozen and buried beneath a thick downy blanket of snow.

We watched the season change from our giant picture window looking down the river valley. The snow slowly receded, pushed back into piles shrouded in shade by the sun’s intensifying heat and the river turned from white to silvery gray. As the ice melted, moving out from the middle of the river in ever-widening circles, the silver deepened to pewter then black as the water coursing along beneath the ice was finally revealed.

Swollen by the spring melt, the river tumbled swiftly below, speeding along its length and climbing a little farther up its banks every day. Trunks of weathered dead trees sailed past the house, swept away from the water’s edge by the extended, greedy grasp of the river.

Other tall trees whose roots grew sideways into the hill while their gray trunks stretched straight up towards the sky framed the river outside our window. If we ventured closer to the rushing water and looked past the trees we could see where the river disappeared around a bend. It then cut a mildly meandering course past homes with manicured lawns, homes hidden behind trees, and other spots where trees and brush filled the landscape.

Bear and I later found the river again tumbling and churning along the edge of a conservation area where it burst its way over jumbled boulders strewn in its path. We could hear the water from every trail that webbed through the forest as it roared and frothed white energy down troughs cut sharp and slick in the rock.

We stood on great slabs of flat rocks that pushed the river into a narrowed band and watched the water gush like a waterfall down jagged stair steps, feeling its vibrations in our chests. On our rocky perch, water gathered in small pools around us in dish-shaped gouges and reflected the sky, some of them catching the black silhouettes of trees.

Bear and I walked those trails often through the trees, narrow dirt paths snaked over by tangles of roots. The sun, high in the brilliant blue northern sky reached down to us through the canopy, dappling our path in green and gold.

We walked mostly in silence, Bear easily filling the space at my side, her body swaying casually to match my relaxed gait; the sound of the river a third companion. As we moved through the trees, the surging water became an anchor of sorts amidst the endlessness of the woods, its white noise urging us on and always calling us back.

1 comment:

  1. I finally found some time to write something to you. As usual, Heather, your wrting is not just marks filling a page. The beauty of your words, the weave of your poetic threads make me smile, make me think, make me feel - the beauty of earth solidly conveyed by the easy beauty of your words. The power of language is a way of bridging the gap between oneself and another person, between oneself and an animal, between oneself and the landscape. It calls us into the presence of the world and I see in all your writing just such a call, the call to recognize the living earth and its animals. Unlike most of us, you are able not only to use language with power but also to hear the language of the natural world: the soft pad of a dog's foot, the "hig-pitched squeak" of a cat, "the greedy grasp of the river", a river that "roared and frothed white energy". You listen closely to the world itself. I believe that your writing reveals you to be entirely a part of the living world, the terrain you wander speaks to you, the core of the world is part of you, part of your very heart. By becoming earth, by becoming animal, you become fully human, you show us what's worth knowing. Most of us see the earth as subordinate, a region to be bent, poisoned, mined, damed, beaten. We prefer in our culture machinescapes, sidewalks, concrete walls. Few want to engage earth on its own terms. But you, in all your vivid writing, center on the same beating heart: you honour the felt experience of things, you empathsize with the living land. You urge us to find the rhythm of what it means to be alive and to be connected with life. It's most appropriate that to you "the surging water became an anchor ... urging us on and calling us back." You invite the reader to listen, to listen close. Thanks for such art, Heather.