Still, with temperatures dipping into the mid-40° range overnight, even on a bright sunny day, the river water warms only so much. This became obvious when I stepped in. I try to unload my mind’s concerns and get into more of a BE-ing state when I leave the bank and set foot in the water. Kinda my own small ritual of letting go. As I prepared to do this, standing in the river, for an instant I glanced at the always interesting multi-colored, rounded rocks beneath my feet. I happened to notice a dark oval pebble moving.
I bent down and, in these waning warm days of October, was surprised and delighted to find a tiny turtle, literally the size of my thumb nail. I gently scooped it up, held it for an instant, then wished it well as I set it back into the river with a broad smile. IDK, maybe I’m just easily amused, but encountering this brave little critter warmed my heart for the next hour of floating in cold water. Much as I can be awestruck by the wondrous mountain views from MacAfee Knob, I can also be enthralled and charmed by a creature as big as a thimble.
It’s a gorgeous time to be in the river. The foliage is showing off its fall apparel, and because of the sun being lower in the sky, the water near the banks has taken on a deeper, more lusty umber tone. The contrast of the river hues against waves of green, amber, and golden yellow foliage, set off by the deep blue autumn sky is stunning.
Not floating as often these days, I noticed litter in many areas. Some was perhaps revealed by the more barren trees, but it was also in areas I know I had cleaned up only a month ago, conspicuously re-littered by people to whose mindset I will never relate. The insane notion we can make use of the earth but keep removed from the consequences of our wanton, exploitive ways boils my blood. There was some paper, and some glass bottles, but mostly plastics. Our ubiquitous man-made virus, which we keep infecting into the earth’s waters, fresh and oceanic. I set in my mind I’d make a few more garbage-collecting excursions before winter and tried not to let it distract from the beauty.
As it happened, I didn’t catch sight of any great blues all along my usual route this day. They sometimes elude my sight, but since I felt warm enough I continued a bit beyond my normal take out spot. Sure enough, I was rewarded ten minutes later, where I saw my elegant young friend poking about in the grasses. It moved down river twice as I approached, and on the third encounter, watched me warily but let me pass. Some may think nothing of it but I consider it an honor to be trusted by another being.
It occurred to me on the walk home, the wee turtle where I began my float would readily be gobbled up, soft shell and all by this maturing, ever-hungry heron. The millions of years old ecosystems of nature are precisely and beautifully balanced. I also wondered about the endless flow of our plastics, choking the life in our rivers and steadily degrading as they make their way to the oceans, where as invisible micro-particles they disrupt and compromise more essential systems of life on earth. Eventually, they’re ingested by humans as well. Unless we act swiftly, to change our course, it seems but a matter of time before we’re also microscopically compromised. Our insides steadily disrupted, “gobbled up” by our own invention, perhaps justly, by the vastly more powerful natural systems we live within, and of which we foolishly pretend to be masters. As with climate change, we can ignore it until we can’t, but the Earth will be fine without us.
And I recalled how that bean-sized turtle paddled ferociously against the river’s swift current, and then climbed the slippery wall of the pebble mountain nearby with all its might just to gain a momentary pause. Blissfully floating or scrambling for refuge, there’s no leaving the circle.