mad in pursuit journal


Rivers: Dangerous and Purifying

[Continued from yesterday] When we were kids, "going out to the river" didn't have much to do with the actual Meramec River at Castlewood. By that time all the river resorts were gone, the river itself neglected. There was nothing left to do in the river but drown. It had been our parents' playground. It was our source of nightmares: don't go near the water or a whirlpool will suck you under.

My father taught us the song Old Green River [1]. Another kind of river danger...

Shall we gether at the river? I guess that old song refers to the River Jordan and getting baptized. Purifying and washing away our sins. Rivers are life-sustaining, not only in symbol but in reality. Great civilizations sprang up along rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates. In Thailand we floated on a barge down the Chao Phya River. Children splashed in the water along the overgrown banks and all I could do was worry about them. It didn't look like civilization to me. It looked like murky death.

I went scuba diving in the St Lawrence River. An easy-going drift dive, they said. But the river was too narrow, too fast at that spot and we were tumbled along. Fast enough to rip off one of my fins. Fast enough to nearly suck me to Montreal once we surfaced and clung to the anchor line for dear life. Danger. But maybe it counts as purifying too, since the circa 1980 incident caused me to drag my alarmed body to the gym and to commit to an exercise regime.

In the ancient river bed where we live, there's now the fast-moving stream, Irondequoit Creek. Good for walking along the side of and for occasional fishing. Stepping into it — even up to my ankles on a hot day — fills me with dread. Years ago Molly visited when she was about 12. We hiked along the creek but needed to step into it for a dozen feet or so to get around some difficult terrain. Both of us were good swimmers. We were feeling bold. I can't remember how deep the water got, but it suddenly terrified us both. Molly held on to my waist. Being able to swim had nothing to do with the lurking danger. When your time comes, the river will snatch you down.


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[1] Old Green River:

Half past four, Dan McGrore came knockin' on his wifey's door
She'd been waiting up all night -- waiting for him to go to bed.
Danny smiled, like a child, but his wife she grew very wild.
"Where have you been all night long?" she cried.
And this is what Danny replied:
I've been floating down that [cork popping] Old Green River,
On the good Ship Rock and Rye.
But I floated too far — I got lost on the bar
There was I all alone, wishing that I was home.
The ship got wrecked with its captain and crew
And there was only one thing left to do —
So I had to drink that [cork popping] Old Green River dry
To get back home to you-u-u-u-u-u-u.