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The Order of Stars
All summer long I share this river with the various migrant species that come to shelter and feed in its bounteous arms: Canada geese and snadhill cranes, upland beavers and lowland muskrat, fleet trout and wallowing carp; and, most seasonally, other human beings as well. With them I exchange small talk about crops and crappies, great blues and boats, the weather and the World Series. For a few months the most notable objects on the water are bright-colored fiberglass craft powered by noisy engines churning through the steady clear currents. along the shore, silver trailers with out-of-state plates and mud-splattered pick-ups beside orange tents pop up in the flood plain. Smoky fires and loud talk ride the wind.
the ballgame comes play-by-play
across the river
When autumn appears, and the waters cool, first week-days, then all days, find the river devoid of men. It is at this time, when the river and I are alone, that I am most able to come to my senses, become most truly human. It is not that I do not enjoy the company of my fellow men. but their presence illustrates to me what a man is, while in their absence I am permitted to think on what a man can be, and to represent him well here among the wild and untutored, where there is no preference for things human. I am most able to shed the veneer of humanity, and simply be, a human animal amongst these other animals, a presence amidst their presences.
It is now, when the river is barren, that I am most forcibly struck by the solitariness of wild animals. How rare it is to see animals in the company of a species not their own. Bears do not traffic with deer, beavers give the muskrats a wide berth, and chipmunks dart away at the approach of a hare. Only the birds are excepted: upon the waters, intermingled, I espy mallards keeping company with Canada geese; the cranes and herons share the shingled bank; and the strong straight flights of the kingfisher are looped together by the barn swallows' arabesques.
The dog is happy enough on its own, quite apart from these deliberations. He races about for sheer joy, biting at the white water of the rapids, crackling leaves in haste to get from here to there for no purpose other than to do it.
enjoying the dog
enjoying the river
Settling down for the evening on a mossy spot along the bank I am calmed by the river's steady flow. The water which I had passed over making my way here during the day now passes me by, bearing with it the traces of the many soils and landscapes it drains; Blue Ridge escarpment, Shenandoah Valley effluvium, Piedmont loess, mingle in these waters, are the mud and shine of its passing. Also flowing, the shine of the bright moon, the dim halo of stars about it, and, in the dark woods, my own shining being—
the crackle of small sticks
in the fire
reprinted from Bruce Ross [Editor], Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun, Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co, Inc., 1998, pp 114-15.