Yesterday was the longest day of 2021 and it was the hottest day so far. I do my best to avoid direct sun, but it was the kind where even light activity in the shade breaks one into a sweat. I was eager to wrap up the work day, swap paint clothes for trunks and water shoes and head to the river. On the walk to my drop in spot, someone a bit ahead of me on the street kept stooping and reaching down. As I neared I realized she was a young lady picking up plastic cups, bottles and litter. I thanked her. She humbly responded “I’m just trying to do my part. I’m a smoker but I never toss my butts out the window. We’re all a family. I jus’ don’t understand some folks.” I told her how much I appreciated her and agreed completely. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but it seems to me we won’t end such habits until we comprehend why folks have them. For me solutions are about finding the balance—avoiding harm and nurturing good without provoking defensiveness.
It was so wonderful to feel the evening breezes after the exhausting heat. The extra long hours of sunshine made the water warm, but I was immediately able to cool down. As I came around the first bend I was delighted to see a dad with a fishing pole assisting a pint-sized girl with hers as they stood in the water. From 50 yards I thought, that looks like Ryan. Before I uttered a word he said “Hello John!” He was guiding his nine year old, Emma (who I learned had a birthday yesterday) on casting. I asked how it was going— “I had a couple of nibbles just as I was pulling it in, but both times I tugged it out of their mouths. So close, but so far!” I smiled and encouraged her to keep at it. Seeing adults sharing their love and respect for the outdoors in such a way with kids seems so heartening and crucial in our era. Maybe this is how we curtail litter habits…
Further along, a foursome, two older and two young adults were foraging in the water, bent over like gleaners. I assume hunting for “river glass” or some particular type of stones. Every now and then one wold hold one up and carry it to a bucket on the bank. On the opposite bank I passed another family, the now familiar trio of white ducks, two adults and a juvenile, all so engaged in their digging something tasty from the mud they barely acknowledged me passing. A spin over the small rapids and there was a dad hoisting a large stone like a super-hero over his head as his female partner, and son, and an adorable puppy (the tails of the latter two wagging excitedly), anxiously watched for the climactic splash! A one-day hydrology engineer toddler daughter nearby, wearing an over-sized beach bonnet was contentedly pre-occupied, pouring water into a bucket in the shallows oblivious to the dramatic event.
Beyond the bridge I passed another duck-billed family, speckled brown momma and several ducklings, so perfectly colored and safely silent, they only caught my eye in the last instant as I passed. I bounced over a few gentle ripples and I was transfixed as usual by shimmering golden light on the surface intertwined with the ochre-colored river bottom, silvery boulders worn smooth over thousands of years and marine green water in the shadows. I snapped a few images, and when I spun, suddenly realized a black-crowned night heron was directly across, fishing and watching me float past. It was focused on dinner and I suspect, happy to see me head downstream.
I arched my back, reached out my arms, let my spread-eagle frame drape the tube and hung my head all the way back until my hat dipped in the river. Floating this way for a moment or two, I was reminded of a comment from a Jewish friend the other day, about how the hangman in Tarot cards had evolved from the Judaic scholars’ practice of hanging upside-down in order to gain new perspective and provoke insight. I however, had no brainstorm, only a wet skull. But I DID notice the nearly full moon. Sitting upright, I was entranced as it glowed and faded behind veils of clouds, high on the horizon toward which I was headed. It was cool to see it framed between the fifty foot spans of the towering Elm Avenue bridge.
Another fowl treat appeared as I swooped the last water mini-slide just beyond the bridge. A juvenile black-crowned heron (perhaps the offspring of the one seen upstream), was poking about in the weedy, mid-river island. Lacking the adult’s striking light gray and black markings and yellow “crown”, it has mottled brownish plumage but, like its parents, an unmistakeable stunning red iris. Encounters on the whole float seemed to flit back and forth between humans and birds.
I slowly meandered on the surface of the waterway to the bridge where I pull out. As often occurs, the tables turned. I became the main object of interest to a family walking the greenway with toddlers; they stopped and pointed at me as if I was an exotic wild being, floating toward them. The kids were delighted when I waved, the friendly gesture of a strange creature on a giant spinning black doughnut, part of some river family, drifting by from its waterworld.