River: A Haibun
Inspired by the Six Mile-St. Claire Greenway
As we launch, I ask myself what remarkable thing will happen on this river, in this sprawling wetland spotted with low-growth shrubbery and ruined forest. It is the wrong question. First, we must launch. The wet deck, a platform of treated lumber thrusts over the river like a sturdy hand, but that structure doesn’t make stepping down to river level any less tricky, Deana in her kayak, me on my flat water SUP. The boards feel slippery and water weeds crowd pilings. My leash promptly tangles in the fronds. I feel the drag, but that slowing and the minute it takes to disentangle gives me time to read the flow. Despite the chill, this river will be slow and easy; the awkwardness of our launch passes. Once balanced on the sweet spot of my board, once out into the pull of river, I paddle into a current not swift but not tired either, in no hurry despite the weather. The depth and width seems plenty for a good-sized fishing boat, but a larger pleasure boat would be hard-pressed to maneuver its meandering bends and shallow beds.
The day might not be inviting to others, but for me it’s pure atmosphere—all mood and grey aura, puffy mist and fog that weights the sky with clouds the color of stones. The laden air drenches face, hands, knees and feet—I always paddle barefoot—but the lift and pull of the SUP stroke warms me. That and Deana, today’s wise guide, has loaned me a rain parka against the wind’s sharper bluster. Once the rhythm of paddling returns, I trail Deana in her kayak, taking in this new landscape, flat but textured as raw silk spread like a cape for a quarter mile on each side of the river. The sky is pierced by the austere trunks of what had once been a young ash forest, now gone. These rise like dulled swords piercing a heavy sky, but their demise can’t mar the lushness in this wetland blanketed with cattails, bull rushes, reeds, sedges. With the weight of water, the fringe of goldenrod, dollop of cardinal flower, and stems of swamp willow curve downward, and even our hair turns to dripping ringlets.
I ask Deana the names of things. When she doesn’t know, she uses her phone to look them up. We startle flocks of mergansers and wood ducks. The jays follow us, alerting their worlds as we move through the riverscape. Crows accompany us, swift and suspicious. A woodpecker, a pair of downies, the ever intrepid chickadees and omnipresent sparrows flicker in the half grown scrub line along the shore. It takes me a while to realize. No traffic sound invades the natural orality of these wetlands, nothing else but the barest whisper of mist. When I look down, a further silence: moss-covered rocks and bass, perch, and even a couple of small trout sliver the currents beneath, barely moving, then darting into invisibility as if they were nothing. I wait, paddling in my rhythm. The miles pass. Nothing happens. It takes a while to hear the untruth inside that monotony. Everything is happening, quiet and unfathomable, a sacred quotidian. The excitements are under cover, the silence of an inhuman beauty. What did I expect—here the river is doing its work, providing for multiple worlds dependent on it. Nothing is happening but our brush against that necessary complexity. We are listening in on a paradox so silent it could deafen.
Summer ends with rain,
cool guise of serenity—
Being weaves its web.
This pieces was written by Anne-Marie Oomen as party of the Antrim Writers Series, generously funded by a grant from Rotary Charities of Traverse City
writer, workshop leader, literary presenter, instructor: Solstice MFA at Lasell University, MA