The Flow of Life
[ by John Daniel ]
Last winter I spent four and a half months in solitude in the Rogue River country of southwestern Oregon. The cabin where I lived, in a meadow surrounded by wilderness, was high above the Rogue on the north side of a steep, forested canyon, out of sight of the river but looking out on the spacious sculpturing that it and its tributaries have accomplished in the course of time. The voice of water on bedrock, its violence muted by distance to a windlike hush, was present through all my days in the brimming silence that absorbed me.
I had no visitors, no human news. I followed local stories--deer browsing the meadow, the precise enunciations of spotted owls, the drifting, swirling mist that obscured and revealed the green wooded ridges around me. In the meadow one night I was startled by a muffled impact close by, then vague wings shouldering away. Another night I heard in the woods a rasping, screeching, snarling struggle between creatures I couldn't see, one fighting to take a life, one fighting to keep it. At the river I saw an osprey dive on a green pool and rise with a steelhead arching in its talons. I killed two fish myself that day, rapped their heads on a boulder, saw their violet-green iridescence fade as they quivered to stillness in my hands.
After the September attacks I went back to the cabin for a few days. I spent time at the river, fishing, watching. The osprey was there, perched high in a snag, and a great blue heron stood straight and still on a rock. The river flowed in rapids and smooth green slides, just as it had all winter. It cared no more for me, no more for our present pain, than it cared for the miners who once shared meals and stories and occasionally murdered one another by its banks, or for the Indians the miners and cavalry had hunted and killed and driven from the land. And the Indians' long habitation, their fire smoke lifting to a glittering heaven, was no different to the river from the time before, the time of no time, when it rushed and glided in the presence of lives not human. It roared with killing floods, ran thick with torrents of volcanic ash, dwindled in drought to a rank trickle, and freshened again. Sleek otters slipped along shore. Ouzels dipped into and out of the current. Deer stepped carefully down to drink, as a cougar watched from a crag.
We live in mystery. Our lives have flowed from exploding stars, from tides of time and gravity beyond our ken. Nothing in nature can tell us our story, can explain why today some die while others live on, why some create and others kill, why we die at all, or live. The river does not choose. The river gathers all it touches and finds its way. In surging falls and deep green pools, in chutes and riffles and silent swirls, the river bears us on through winding passages of grace and fury, until once, perhaps, in a stab of sun on streaming water, the entire aching beauty of being comes clear--because we ask, because we care, because we know and cannot know--and the river, the good, green, terrible river, flows on.
John Daniel lives in the Coast Range foothills west of Eugene, Oregon. His next book, Winter Creek: One Writer's Natural History, will appear in late spring from Milkweed Editions.
© 2002 NASI
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