The river

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At the shore.

There is a river where I grew up. It runs past the farm where my dad’s family has lived for several generations, and it has always played such a role in our lives. As kids, we were up and down that dirt lane to the shore practically every day of the summer. We camped there in one of those big, smelly dark canvas tents that always seemed to attract the most enormous daddy-long-legs spiders ever seen. There are photographs in existence of a toddler me, round-bellied in a bikini, running up the beach after my big brother, and now there are also photographs of my own daughters, round-bellied toddlers, on the same red sand shore.

As I grew, I spent hours on the beach, creating elaborate periwinkle farms, sandcastles, villages out of shells and driftwood and seaweed. We swam, of course, and boated, dug for clams, and walked for miles up the river at low tide. My husband says its not a river, it is an “inlet” because it is, as all things are here, tidal. Anyhow, it was the only kind of river I ever knew existed. I was fascinated by the tales of the great sailing ships sailing up the river at high tide, dropping the huge stones they had as ballast as they got further upriver and needed to lighten the load.

When I got a bit older and needed time to mull over my increasingly complicated pre-teen and teenaged life, I would walk up through the woods to a spot on the river bank where I could just sit, surrounded by the soothing bayberry bushes and non-judgmental spruces, and contemplate. A lot of serious thought went on there.

When the season ended, and the road got filled in with snow, we mostly stayed away. Some winters it got so well-frozen that we skated on the river, which was glorious. Springtime saw us hurtling down the muddy road, waiting for the day the ice would finally go and I could SEE the water once more, smell it and hear it. The sound of the wind soughing in the trees, the lapping waves, the songbirds and the gulls.

The old spruce trees.

This year is no different, really, even though I am an adult with littles of my own. We all go barrelling down the still-dirt lane together, the girls chit-chatting non-stop with their grandparents the whole way. I feel the same old surge of joy when I see the river sparkling as we round the bend in the woods. The smell of the salt river after the ice goes out is so clean, so fresh, it is unlike anything else in the world. It gives us all so much pleasure.

Summertime is busy here now. Where we used to pitch a tent, cottages have sprung up in a little village. But it is the most wonderful village, made up entirely of our rather large family. You see, my grandparents had eleven children, and most of them and some of the grandchildren have built cottages along the edge of the old home farm along the river. Every weekend is like a big family reunion, and I can’t help but think of how much joy our predecessors would feel to know how it all goes on that lovely piece of family land.

It is difficult to describe such a deep connection to a plot of land. In this era, people move far and often, and few families still live in the same area as their ancestors did. I was always endlessly fascinated by the acres of woods that have now grown over the old farm. Walking through the thick stands of spruce, you could find a long-abandoned wagon wheel, or a path that crossed over a bubbling brook. An old shack stood, half-fallen down but still accompanied by the most glorious lilac bushes I have ever seen. A depression in the ground was the only other evidence of the house that once stood there, its cellar and the sweet lilacs all that are left of that long-ago loved home. Certainly if ghosts walk anywhere, they did in those woods. I thought it was magical.

There is a song by Natalie Merchant that always summed up perfectly how I felt about the river, and I think I will let her say it for me again.

Where I Go

by Natalie Merchant

Find a place
On the riverbank
Where the green rushes grow
See the wind
In the willow tree
In the branches hanging low

Well, I go to the river
To soothe my mind
To ponder over
The crazy days of my life
Watch the river flow
Ease my mind and soul
Where I go

Well I will go to the river
From time to time
Wander over
These crazy days in my mind
Watch the river flow
Where the willow branches grow
By the cool rolling waters
Moving gracefully and slow

O, child it’s lovely
Let the river take it all away
The mad pace and the hurry
The troubles and the worries
Just let the river take them all away
Flow away

2 responses »

  1. I absolutely love this Stephenie! It gives me great joy to read how you feel about this wonderful place we share and hear that you feel the same joy as I do when we catch that first glimpse of the river sparkling through the trees. THANK YOU for this good feeling in my heart that you have generated here! xox

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