I love that my daily run takes me across a river.
I find that rivers are a reassuring reminder that change is the one constant we can rely on.
Rivers are never the same. The water flowing past is in constant movement. Whether it is the slow waters of the Grays River, or the urgent snowmelt driven rapids of the Klickitat River, there is unending movement to the sea.
This idea first spoke to me as a kid paddling the waters of the Brandywine River in Pennsylvania. As my older brother and sister paddled, I was free to gaze over the side of the canoe at the root beer colored river, its smooth stones always in clear view.
A few years and 3,000 miles later, I watched the mighty Dalles Dam release great torrents of the shackled Columbia River as I crossed the salmon pink Dalles Bridge.
Crossing that bridge from Washington to Oregon, the dam on the left, the dipnet platforms and nets with hundreds of years of native tradition on the right, reminded me of the changing permanence of the river.
The Celilo Falls area was the largest Indian salmon fishery on the Columbia River prior to the construction of The Dalles Dam in the 1950s.
The fishery had existed for seasons on a river that was alive and churning with life before the falls were flooded and changed forever.
Cycles of salmon, water and life
Salmon do this thing that has always fascinated me. They are hatched in smooth stone shady creeks and are nourished by the aquatic life of that freshwater nursery.
At a certain age, the salmon take themselves out to the sea, which is much richer in experience and plentiful in nutritional forage.
Later, when they are fat from the bounty of the ocean, they swim back up the river, returning to the creek of their genesis. Here, they seed the next generation, eggs buried among the smooth stones.
Then they die.
The purpose of their death has become evident to scientists through years of research. The nutrient-rich dead salmon carcass becomes food for 137 species of plants and animals as it decomposes — and those plants and animals create food, fertility and shelter for the next generation buried among the smooth river stones.
Like the salmon, I realize that the river’s water is being recycled, too.
Water molecules are very hard to destroy. They may transform their states, evaporate and fall as snow in a mountain range or rain on a green coast. But, eventually, they make their way to the creek, river, sea and sky again, ever the same, but each time different.
And like the salmon and waters, the atoms of our bodies spun out from the stars to form minds and hearts and souls that sail about for some fraction of a century thinking they are the center of the universe are smashed to dust in the end.
We can try to stem the tide with formaldehyde, but our destruction and reconstitution are inevitable.
Life is not a permanent condition, but if we do well in our time here we can take the richness of our varied experience and create communities that raise heroes we will never meet.
Rivers and unrepeatable moments
Rivers are constants of change. The river is always moving and yet always there.
We live our lives on a river of time only sometimes realizing the current reduces jagged wounds to smooth stones.
People ask me if I am bothered by the accumulation of birthdays, the scars of the passage of time. It helps that I have done my best to appreciate the inevitability of the river’s flow, to watch its changes as they come.
There is a Japanese sentiment Ichi-go, ichi-e. It means treasuring the unrepeatable nature of the moment. Since each encounter or moment is singular and unrepeatable, it’s our duty to give them our full attention.
When I look out on a river, I am reminded of this.
I know this river. It is the river that I cross every day, yet this river is new today, this river will not be here tomorrow. Its waters will be replaced by other waters, its hidden stones turned and smoothed by time.
I am not good at it – this giving my full attention to an unrepeatable moment – but I aspire to be better, each day, as I cross the river.
Ed Hunt is a writer and registered nurse as well as the author of “The Huckleberry Hajj,” a collection of essays available on Amazon.com. He lives in Grays River.