rivers


Random quote of the day:

 

“The world is a jumble of men and women who have failed to find their destiny.  They are like hungry rivers that never reach the sea.”

—Nina FitzPatrick, Daimons

 

 


Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

In the evenings, I pause in my chores to take the cat on a supervised trip into the back yard. She’s proven time and again she can’t be trusted not to jump over the wall and go walkabouts—which, we suspect, is how she got lost from her previous owners. She does so love the back yard. She’s quite insistent on going out there, fussing and whining until I relent.

I always relent, because my dirty little secret is that I go out there as much for myself as her. Min makes a great excuse. I love to to feel the wind in my face, listen to the birds, watch the gloaming slowly overtake the leaves of trees and plants, golden and syrup-rich. It’s serene, one of the few things in my life right now that fills me up rather than takes away.

So as I sat in my serene place last night, I thought—mostly in a peaceful way—about letting go of so many layers of things. Letting go of fears, letting go of needless guilt and worry, of giving it up to the inexorable ebb and flow of the universe. Not give up on life, you understand. Still in there, still fighting the good fight, just reconciling myself to the fact that the universe will always have its way in the end, no matter what I or anyone else does. What I needed, what I need, is to give up the illusion of control, to make peace with that.

We’re none of us helpless flotsam in the grand old river of the universe. I truly believe things travel along with us, keeping us in the free-flowing stream as long as possible, as much as possible. Little markers of hope and fellow-feeling, sometimes larger things that buffer and stand guard. At times, the smallest things can bring the largest upwelling of hope, allowing us to float free. I don’t know what these things are, where they come from, wouldn’t care to define them in narrow human terms, but they are there as long as we allow them to be. We can’t be protected forever. Nothing can be. Sometimes we’re going to smash into rocks, sometimes we’re going to dip below the surface. Sometimes, when the time has come, we’re going to drown. It’s the nature of the journey. It’s easy to be philosophical about all this when I’m in my serene place. Difficult when I’m having trouble treading water.

From the perspective of my usual chair last night I tried to think of some better way of treading water. I wondered if, along with the illusion of control, I also had an illusion of receiving help along the way. I looked at a patch of ground near the bird bath where a few days ago I’d moved a brick that had been overgrown with moss. I saw a little face, tilted to the side, peering back at me from the fringe of the moss, just before the precipice where the brick had nestled. One little arm was raised as if she swam hard against the pushing tide of moss. I was far enough away to wonder if she might be an optical illusion, a trompe l’oeil composed of bits of leaf matter, blossoms, and hope.

I got up and drew close. There was a face, and a tiny arm, a small ceramic figurine lodged into the ground. When I pulled her out I saw she was a little fairy maiden, sitting on a leaf, resting one elbow on a thimble while the other, the one she’d been swimming with, rested on air where she’d broken off something. She had quite an Alice in Wonderland quality to her face, but I don’t recall ever owning a piece of garden ceramic with such a whimsical girl. I’d swear she hadn’t been there when I moved the brick. My hand was right there two days ago, but I didn’t remember seeing her. Clearly, she’d nestled amongst the moss a while because she was partly embedded in the soil, leaving a hollow when I pulled her free. The moss had surrounded her as it had the brick. Perhaps I’d been too distracted at the time and hadn’t noticed her, or…

I looked up at the faces hanging on the garden wall. Flora and Ivy smiled serenely back at me. Green Man looked grumpy, as always, but I wouldn’t absolutely swear there wasn’t a twinkle in his eyes. Probably the gloaming. Magic things always happen in the heavy, rich light of twilight.

Random quote of the day:

 

“How could drops of water know themselves to be a river?  Yet the river flows on.”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands

 

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

And the river we have lost

Three centuries ago, the river meandered this way and that through a dense forest of willow and sycamore, elderberry and wild grape. Its overflow filled vast marshlands that were home to myriad waterfowl and small animals. Steelhead trout spawned in the river, and grizzly bear roamed its shores in search of food. So lush was this landscape and so unusual was it in the dry country that the river was a focus of settlement long before the first white man set foot in the area. Indians relied on the river and the adjacent woodlands for food and the raw materials from which they made almost everything else. They built their villages near the river and bathed each morning in its waters. When the first European visitors passed through the area in the eighteenth century, more than two dozen Indian villages lined the river’s course to the sea. The first white visitors, Spanish explorers in search of possible sites where they could establish missions, were also drawn to the river. They marveled at its beauty, named it after a cherished religious site near their homeland, [La Porciúncula], and noted the potential of the gardenlike setting for settlement…

from The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht

Here’s what it looks like now:

What killed this gardenlike river? Floods and water rights. The Los Angeles River was a wild one, prone to flooding in the rainy season and in the spring. Here’s what it looks like when it’s flooding:

As the city grew, the river breaching it’s banks and taking out homes and businesses could not be tolerated—rightly so. So they channeled it. Which wouldn’t have killed it off completely, but the other side effect of L.A.’s growth was its thirst. Soon water supplied from the river wasn’t enough to slake that thirst so they started pumping it directly out of the underground aquifer that was the river’s lifeblood.

Even that wasn’t enough after a time. They siphoned off the Colorado River and…well, did you ever see the movie, Chinatown? Old Mr. Mulholland devised a plan to pump the lakes in central California, too.

And the Los Angeles River? Became mostly a sewage channel except for those flooding times in the winter and spring.

There is some hope. People have begun to care about the river and its future. Friends of the Los Angeles River, among others, got the EPA to designate the L.A. River as a navigable waterway, which helps protect in under the Clean Water Act. There are plans for redevelopment and some really nice before and after pictures here.

And parts of it have come back somewhat, tended to and allowed to be semi-wild, like this stretch of the Glendale Narrows:

But L.A is broke, the state of California is broke, and our new old governor Jerry Brown has decided to take back the money from redevelopment projects all across the state. Who knows if we’ll ever get our river back?

Reading Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is sparking all sorts of memories for me. One of her characters takes an autumn train trip from Amsterdam to Brussels. Her descriptions of the Dutch countryside brought back a flood of reminiscence for a trip I made when I was twenty-one: from Brussels to Amsterdam by bus. That was in autumn, too, and my very first view of Europe, the lovely late green of the countryside, the tractors harvesting wheat, the fields of flowers. Everyone else on the bus was unconscious from jet lag by the time we hit Amsterdam, but I was transfixed. I took a year off from college, worked full time to save money for that trip. I wanted to savor every minute.

Later, Kostova talks about the Danube. I never saw it, but it got me to thinking about the rivers I have seen in my life. They made a big impression. I come from a land of minimal rivers, you see. Most of the time the Los Angeles River is not much, a squeak wending through the city in rigidly controlled concrete channels. I cross it every day on my way to and from work but there isn’t always a lot to see. Except when, like now, it rains. Then it becomes raging cataract. Every year someone, sometimes several someones, are swept away and often drowned in rainy season.

And I’ve never seen those iconic American rivers: the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio. I have seen the Hudson, the Delaware, the Schuylkill, the Potomoc. They were big, but I have to say, the first real river I saw back in that autumnal trip at twenty-one made a bigger impression, probably because it was the first time I’d ever seen a real river. That river was the Rhine. We had a hotel room on its banks in Koblenz with a big window. I couldn’t believe the immensity of that waterway. I sat and stared for the longest time. We took a ferry downriver next morning and not all parts were as wide, but it’s impressive, with all the castles lining it, or in some cases in the river. (Somewhere I’ve got my own pictures of this place.) I guess I must have seen the Neckar River, too, since I was at Heidelberg. Beautiful, beautiful city—like whipped cream on gingerbread. We walked across a bridge over the river to another part of the town. A movie house there showed The Exorcist, some years after its Hollywood release. I thought the experience of seeing it in German might be quite an adventure, but couldn’t persuade my friend to go in.

The Arno was especially beautiful, though not a physical beauty so much as the stirring beauty of Tuscan history and the incredible city of Florence that it moves through: the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Duomo. Everywhere you turn in Florence is something else from the art books and I was so primed for that. I’d been studying art history intensively just before going on that trip. When were were in Rome at the Sistine Chapel, I was so carried away in my enthusiasm, parroting my professors, describing the interesting bits of Michelangelo’s work to my friends—not loudly, but looking up, pointing out things, pouring out what I’d learned—that when my eyes finally descended back to earth, I was surrounded by a group of tourists listening intently. I hadn’t even known they were there, I’d been so swept away. They smiled and thanked me, but I was actually quite embarrassed. Enthusiasm has always been my curse. I must have seen the Tiber since I was in Rome, but I have no memory of it at all, sad to say.

The Thames was also awesome. I’ve seen it on three different trips now and it always makes an impact. The second trip I took the ferry from London to Kew Gardens. A nice trip. I wish I’d gone the other way down to Greenwich, but there was no time. I hit the road the next day to drive around the West Country, and then up to Montgomery in Wales. I’ve seen a number of British rivers, all of them beautiful, but I’m afraid I don’t know the landscape well enough to name them all. The Avon, certainly. I’ve criss-crossed it many times, although I’ve never been to Stratford-on. Most of those rivers are wending and lovely and green in my memories and dreams, wafting through tree-lined banks with decorative fowl paddling through them. It’s always spring and autumn in my mind’s eye, with occasional mists dancing across the waters, but mostly a dappled green shade playing in motes on the surface. I’m sure they’re quite different in summer and winter, but I’ve never seen them at those times. I love my vernal and autumnal British rivers. They’re a place of peace for me in troubled times—and highly romanticized, I’m sure.

But that’s what memory does. You lose some things, the rough edges mostly, but you gain an internal landscape that never truly goes away. Well, until all memory goes away forever. It’s what makes revisiting places you’ve once been and loved such a precarious thing. Good memories are lovely pieces of crystal packed away in a cloud of dreams. Too much jostling amongst the transit points of reality can have a deleterious effect on dream castles and dream rivers.