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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter Six

The name of the inner tube livery (mentioned in Chapter 5) was changed from Still Water Rock to Porch Rock. The following slight change of dialogue was made in Chapter 5:

“You’ll want to get out of the river just little ways past ‘Fools Hill.' You’ll see a little sign and some wooden stairs. Don’t miss it. The current picks up past there and our busses don’t go no further than that spot.

“Fools Hill?” James asked.

“There's another name the locals call it, but when there's ladies present, I call it 'Fools Hill.' ...."

Chapter Six

The Muskegon River was one of the most active logging rivers in the state during the boom of the late 19th Century. Much of the lumber needed to rebuild Chicago after its Great Fire in 1871 came from the west side of Michigan and a good deal of it had floated down the Muskegon River.

The Muskegon River area was once home to the Ottawa Indians. Their word "Masquigon" meaning "marshy river" or "swamp" was used to describe the river's last few miles. Most of the river, however, is not swampy. It flows from Houghton in upper-mid-state south-west 234 miles to its mouth at Lake Michigan. As is true of most rivers, however, taking the path of least resistance makes it meander in such serpentine fashion that there can be long stretches where a river heads east though its ultimate goal is west.

As rivers seek lower ground, they demonstrate the difference between water and rock. Rock is ancient and foundational from the beginning of time and very resistant to the forces of nature. Water is fluid and fresh and ever changing; not only in form from gas, liquid, and solid ice but also literally changing, especially in a river. Each second the water replaces itself; the faster the flow, the faster the exchange. 

Imagine an old man standing on a riverbank and smiling as he remembers watching the same river from the very same spot as a boy. He takes comfort and ownership in how the scene matches his recollection. But the river is the same in name only. The water at his feet was never there before. It is as new as the last rain and the rain that fell a hundred miles upstream. If sameness is what brings the old man comfort, he should consider the crest of the mossy boulder arching from deep under the river's bed. There, too, he stood as a boy. Big as a front porch it barely breaks the surface of the stream. The crown he sees is a fraction of the boulder itself, left there by a receding glacier from another time. The granite erratic called Porch Rock was there when the old man's father, and his father before him, stood at the spot. It was there when early native inhabitants stood there centuries before them. It was there when no man had yet seen the river.

Along most rivers like the Muskegon are smooth stones of various sizes. They were once jagged fragments that rolled along the river bed against other similar fragments and sand for so far and so long that the edges wore off, leaving odd-shaped, rounded rocks in and along the bed. They are often slippery with algae and moss, which make walking barefoot in knee-deep water a balancing act more easily mastered the deeper the water gets. This underwater staging makes watching would-be drifters getting into their tubes an entertaining show.

There is no graceful way to get situated on top of an inner tube. The water was not terribly cold, but wading out waist deep made the girls involuntarily take in breath and hold their arms shoulder high. Each of them was barefoot, and they complained of the slippery rocks below. James, who had spent more time on rivers, chose to wear an old pair of tennis shoes for that very reason. When he was only knee-deep he tied the mesh bag to the side of the tube and flopped backwards into the hole with a splash and wave that rocked the girls’ tubes.

“Dad! We’re trying to get into these things.” Anna whined.

“You’re out too deep, come back and just fall backwards. That’s easier than climbing in.”

As he was talking, he began drifting away. It was not his plan to separate, but there was nothing holding him once his momentum took him beyond the still water of the edge. The current there was not fast. If there had been a path along the bank, a briskly-paced hiker could keep up with the tubers.
“Are you guys comin'?” he laughed.

“Wait up, Daddy!” Kenzie yelled.

With a stroke of his right arm, he spun to face downstream and began backstroking toward them. The inner tube held him high enough from the water that only his hands and forearms broke the surface. Even so, he was able to outpace the current and paddle upstream. The sun had full access to the center of the river where the current was strongest. His arms, his oars, were not tiring, but it stuck him as pointless to continue since the girls would soon be catching up to him. He paddled toward the edge where the current lost its grip.

Things settled near the shore: sticks and leaves and debris. He saw what looked like a pair of cut-off shorts stuck on the limb of and small log. On the shore, just beyond his reach, his eyes focused on a smooth green rock the size of a child's shoe. He paddled toward it, rinsed off the mud in the water, and slipped it through the neck of the mesh bag with the bottles of water. He planned to keep his eyes peeled for a few more unique river rocks to use around the new waterfall in the turtle garden, but it was not his intention to talk about it with the girls. He knew how ludicrous it would sound. What they didn't know was that many of the rocks in his landscaping came from places of interest, at least of interest to him.

Resting there, he noticed for the first time the beauty of the river. Along both banks was a nearly seamless canopy of undisturbed trees. Above him, somewhere in the glittering sun of the green shade, came the carefree notes of a song sparrow punctuated by the rude, shrill cries of a blue jay. Down stream, around a bend or two, he could faintly hear the voices of another group, and coming ever closer toward him was the laughter of three very familiar voices.

“How do you steer these things,” Anna giggled, hopelessly flailing her arms and feet.

“Don’t come over here. There’s no current. Stay in the center.”

“I’m trying to stay in the center,” Anna laughed, “I want to stay in the sun to get tan. But how do you steer?”

“You don’t really steer them,” her father demonstrated, “You just aim your back in the direction you want to go.” He spun his back toward the three girls. “And you pull in that direction with both arms.”

“I paddle with my feet?” Clair said.

“You can do that, too, but I don't think you get much push--they mostly just splash,” said James.

Being the smallest, Kenzie’s hands worked hard to reach the water.

“Keep your fingers together like this and scoop the water with each backstroke. Or better yet, hook your foot under my tube and I’ll steer the both of us. If all else fails, I can jump from the tube and  pull us. This water is not over our heads.”

“Even my head?” asked Kenzie.

“You might want to stay in your tube, Kenzie, but yes I’d say most of this river is no deeper than your chin, but if the water is still and you can’t see the bottom, then you know it’s deep.”

“I don’t plan on getting out of my tube,” she said, leaning her head back on the firm black rubber.

“I agree. We’ll all just stick together and go with the flow. Just think: a hundred and fifty years ago, Indians were going down this river just like we are.”

"Dad, you're not supposed to call them Indians anymore," Anna corrected, "Besides that, we are floating in the black rubber tubes from the inside of tractor tires, trying to keep the stems from pokin' us in the side. It's not quite the same thing."

"I see what you mean," her father smiled, "but these are not big enough to be tractor tires—I think they're semi tires."

"I'm pretty sure the Native Americans used canoes," she smiled.

"Well, they would have used inner tubes if they'd had them," James laughed. "That somehow changes the image doesn't it?"

"They'd have to be careful with their arrows," Kenzie said dryly, and everybody laughed.

Clair reached out toward James. “Can you hand me my bottle?”

“Already?” James sighed.

“Just a sip,” she smiled.

He pulled the mesh bag up from the rope, pulled open the drawstring top, and handed her a bottle. “Anyone else while it’s open?” he asked. But the girls were in their own worlds, eyes behind sunglasses, faces toward the sky, and arms resting on the tube to catch the sun.

In the trees overhead, the pleasant descending chirps of an unseen cardinal replied to those of his mate on the far shore. Just as James’s followed the sound to a small silhouette, a blue jay swooped to the same branch. Its taunting cry frightened the redbird from its perch. One more harsh, hawkish cry from the jay, and then all was silent as they approached the bend ahead.


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