Thursday, June 2, 2016

Autobobography I—Watching the River Flow

I think this might have been the first Dylan song I remember hearing regularly on the car radio. Or that may be as untrue as many of the statements Dylan made about his life over the years. The song itself is a bit of a contradiction because though he’ll sit there so contentedly and watch the river flow, he also wishes he were back in the city. I’ve always been pulled in both directions myself, neither city nor wild, Boston nor Yellowstone, being enough to give me complete peace. But water has always been important.

There were childhood trips to Cape Cod where I always got a kick out of seeing the sign for the town of Dennis, named after me. Later came a Cape Cod trip with Robin, my first girlfriend with her black kitten and hip chain and stolen kisses in a church parking lot, and the first of many battles with my mother about women. For many years I imagined studying oceanography at Woods Hole. The Cape’s dunes and waves and salt in the air would reappear often in my life. And then there were sunset drinks above Newport’s waters.

In the Ozarks on a college weekend, we wound up hanging from a fallen tree while our canoe and possessions continued down the river. We eventually caught up with them on the shore about a half mile farther on. On the same trip, my girlfriend, lagging behind the main group in another canoe, never made it to our camp. As darkness approached, some of us headed back upriver where we found them at a hillbilly car camp where we joined them for the night. In later years came canoeing in Concord at Thoreau Society meetings, hillbillies of a different sort.

There was rafting on a western Massachusetts river with a volunteer group which took people with various disabilities out into nature. I still have treasured photos from that trip. Later came a short trip on the Yellowstone River with coworkers.

There was the Atlantic Ocean for frequent humpback whale watching trips. Always I felt the sense that I wanted to keep going farther instead of returning to land. Perhaps that came from my father’s years in the Navy. Seeing the whales breaching was always a blessing. For me, the many boat trips blend, but a friend who visited me in Boston remembers her time with the whales as one of the best experiences of her life. 

The Charles River, subwayed over, walked above, with its sailors and scullers and fabulous view of the Boston skyline, and on the opposite shore, the Cambridge River Festival. North of the city, I first discovered oceanside Rockport, which became a regular escape from the city, on a field trip for a wild plants class which I enjoyed most for its eclectic group of classmates.

I met the Mississippi River in the middle near St. Louis at age eighteen. Later, New Orleans trips, where I sometimes ferried across the river to Algiers or listened to an early morning saxophonist on its levee, bookended a trip to its headwaters in distant Minnesota.

I always loved wetlands and their turtles and skunk cabbage. Therefore, I also loved the books of artist/writer David M. Carroll who was kind enough to reply to an enquiry with a letter and an autographed copy of one of his out of print books.

And of course there is Lake Superior. After the Lake and the ocean, I saw Yellowstone Lake and wondered what all the fuss was about (the waterfall was impressive though). I fell in love with the Lake along the entire coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula consummated in the Porcupine Mountains by the Presque Isle River, with a barred owl cooking above the tent. Perhaps too practical, I settled for the jobs of Duluth, where I watch the stormy waves like an ocean without its salt, try to capture its moodiness, walk the trails beside its many hillside creeks, and where the dunes and pines of Minnesota Point take me back to the days of old Cape Cod. 


Jain said...

Nicely writ.

When I graduated from the Weekly Reader Book Club to the Scholastic Book Club to grown-up book catalogues (pre-Internet, pre-Amazon), the first adult book I remember ordering was a big, heavy, colorful, dense book on whales. (Not true that people need zoos to connect with animals.) I wanted to be an oceanographer, too.

greentangle said...

Thank ye.

Book catalogs still make me happy (universities still put them out).

Maybe in the next life, we'll both be oceanographers.