Monday, August 24, 2009

Never Cross the Same River Twice

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along the forest-track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss; which, at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending over it had flung down great branches, from time to time, which choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points; while, in its swifter and livelier passages, there appeared a channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock, covered over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.

"O brook! O foolish and tiresome little brook!" cried Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk. "Why art thou so sad? Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!"

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom.
But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course.

"What does this sad little brook say, mother?" inquired she.

thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it," answered her mother, "even as it is telling me of mine! But now, Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise of one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to play, and leave me to speak with him that comes yonder."

The child went singing away, following up the current of the brook, and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened--or making a prophetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen--within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who
had enough of shadow in her own little life, chose to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set herself, therefore, to gathering violets and wood-anemones, and some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevices of a high rock.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne

Summer, or rather summer vacation, has drawn to a close amidst unseasonably cool weather. It should be in the high nineties this time of year; instead, we’re setting record lows for the month of August. It’s a welcome relief from the usual sweltering, stifling heat and humidity.

I took advantage of this pleasant spell to put in as many hours at work as I could squeeze before tomorrow’s classes. It was nice riding weather—even the four-year-old leopard mare who did her darndest to throw me today (unsuccessfully, I might add) couldn’t make me lose my temper or appreciation for the breeze. And my parents and I went on a trail ride by the river, crossing the Pomme de Terre and enjoying the scenery. Our horses hardly broke a sweat.

Earlier, lost in thought, mourning the many tragedies of this year while still grasping at my remaining blessings, I had pulled the car over at my usual spot at the intersection of two farm roads near my house. I sauntered down the asphalt over the water and leaned over to gaze down. Ten, fifteen feet below the concrete bridge was a shallow, nearly stagnant creek collecting in puddles and dips between large white boulders. Countless minnows appeared in formation as I looked down, scattering as my shadow fell upon them. The schools of tiny fish stretched on as far as I could see—there must have been thousands of individuals within my small viewing frame. On the other side of the drop-off the story was the same: more water, more rocks, more fish. Their bodies flashed silver electric sparks of sunlight whenever they turned just so as the gentle current caught and tipped them. Dull brown minnow-turned-white-sparkle-for-an-instant. A play of light and treat for the senses.

And the water moved languorously on downstream, skirting beaten rocks and lapping the roots of grasses. You can never cross the same river twice, after all.

And what does this say to me? The take-home lesson is that we’ve got to forge ahead wherever the path may lead. We can look back, but we can’t go back. Yes, and so the rippled remembrances of our past billow out and fade to nothingness against the sloshing shoreline—carried softly on white breaking foam, pulled downstream by the torpid current and lost around a bend, but even out of sight still glittering in the sun.


secret agent woman said...

There is an option of sitting down on the path and refusing to budge, which I've seen far too many people do. Sorrow and joy wait on the path, you just take them as they appear.

(I laughed at the river name - I grew up near Big Potato Creek.)

Mozart said...

I prefer "Apple of the Earth"--more poetic. ;)