The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Chris Arvidson is co-editor of the recent book “Reflections on the New River: New Essays, Poems and Personal Stories.” She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College.
Rivers, oh rivers. They fascinate me.
It’s true that water in general always seems to garner my attention, but I think rivers are at the very heart of the primitive relationship we humans have with water. They roll and eddy and dance and jump and splutter and teem. They crash and scamper and dredge. They are mighty and industrious and tiny and delightful. They sport giant gray and black barges, and they attract tiny individual watercraft in bright yellows and blues and reds.
A river will run right by you, right in front of you, and then just disappear.
Sit on the banks of a river, or even a piddling little stream, and let your eyes rest on one spot, one rock, one tree with roots running down into the water, one momentary patch of sunshine sparkling the surface. What better small moment of meditation can you experience?
If I’m planning a trip I always check out what waters are nearby. Is there a river to look at, or better yet, one you can float on? Are there boat trips, sightseeing tourist adventures, or bridges to walk over where you can pause and look down at the water running beneath your feet?
As a kid I can remember exploring local creeks, wandering along or in them, digging up crayfish, hunting down minnows to scoop up and dump back in the flow. I always wanted to follow that creek by my house all the way to—wherever.
Now, a little stream runs through the bottom of my backyard here in the mountain town of West Jefferson, North Carolina (population 1,299 in the 2010 census). From bank-to-bank, at the widest point, its span is no more than three feet, even when it’s running high. It’s an extremely minor tributary of the grand New River.
At the street side of my property the creek runs into a monstrous culvert. I so want to walk through it, go under the street, come out the other side and follow my little stream to see where it dumps into a yet bigger creek, and eventually, into our New River. It’s big enough…I would only have to duck down some…I could put on waders. The street the creek flows under is narrow, barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another. Heck, you can see daylight when you look through the culvert tunnel. Winter would be the best time. The vegetation at the open ends has all died back, and I wouldn’t have to worry about being spooked by a snake.
Or maybe, instead, I’ll brush the snow off my bench and just listen to my little stream running swiftly under the skim of ice.