I believe in rivers.
. . .from the unnamed rivers of my youth in the Sierra foothills of California where we skinny-dipped and drank to profess our wildness and test our invincibility to the magical Mississippi of the eminent Huck Finn whose story of hope and horror the river carried and I taught for ten years to 11th grade American Literature students.
These veins of nature bleed out freedom and ease but also restriction and terror as they show us life and so transport us from children to adults—as we no longer can merely enjoy but must read the world and beware. On the lazy river, Huck and Jim for a while count stars and myth-make that they hatched from the sky, but soon enough they have missed Cairo and are headed to the deadliest slave territory in America.
From New Orleans a few years ago, I finally rode a steamboat on the Big River, with Huck haunting me and as well my mother’s words heard all my life from her honeymoon there in 1946—banana boats unloading and jambalaya simmering.
From last year I have seen the rivers of South Africa and Botswana—speeding in waterways and creeping in mokoros through the Okavango Delta—as the water spelled nourishment and demise for the stunning animals as part of the cycle of all, including for that year unusually blooming the Kalahari.
And I think of Colonel Kurtz in Heart of Darkness who down and through the Congo River sought utopia but ran to madness.
I have seen the fabled Thymes that carried kings and queens to slaughter in the Tower and have imagined the River Styx—eyes closed with coins as the ferryman silently paddles.
This summer I will travel on the Amazon—imagined rich and dark with world beginnings—a river so huge it outsizes the world’s other ten largest rivers put together. And maybe some day I will dip in the Nile—White and Blue—the river that means “river,” is the longest in the world, and whose source remains a mystery still.
The sacred Ganges still provides respite and ritual to a weary people, and the Tigris and Euphrates cradle our most ancient selves.
But it is the Guadalupe River of Texas that holds me the most—realistically from my few brief views as a child but more mythically as my mother again and again has depicted its idylls. . .childhood days splashing on its muddy shores and lying on its sunny banks naming cloud shapes with her grandfather. Growing up, I wondered why the river paintings throughout our home but over the years have come to know the Guadalupe forms the pathway of her heart and in turn framed her parental course of letting the river run—not determining its nature—and find its own way. . .with she and my father the most loving and wisest of tributaries.
I also believe in mountains, but that’s another story.
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