Returning to the early poems in one collection has me asking myself just what, precisely, makes me feel some affinity for some rivers – including those encountered only briefly, perhaps even at a distance – but not others. For that matter, some bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, with their enormous impact on the environment and economy. There is little systematic in my survey; the Everglades, for instance, are not mentioned, although I’ve explored sections of their flowing. No mention, either, of the manatees by the power plant in Fort Myers, Florida.
As I returned to that work, I had to admit an admiration and touch of envy for those writers, who – like W.D. Wetherell with his lifetime on and around the Connecticut River, the longest stream in New England – possess an understanding of the particular that becomes internalized and wise. For most of us, removed by time and distance from such intimacy with the current, we catch only glimmers of its motion or the dangerous price to be paid in a mishap. To know such a specific place through many seasons and activities provides a foundation for knowing other rivers as well – the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges – in ways that may mystify the rest of us.
And yet, we may try. Let me begin.
And then I thought I was done with the set. But when the October 2005 issue of Quaker Life magazine arrived, with Rethea McCutcheon’s article drawing on Howard Thurman’s book Deep River and David James Duncan’s River Teeth, I had to return to the project. The latter volume takes its name from the pitch-filled, cross-grained knots that fail to decay when a tree falls into the water. Instead, they help shape its course. Hence, a line in a poem, somewhere.
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