This July, I can’t get up early enough to beat the heat for my morning walk. Well, I guess I could, but this morning, I didn’t. I got down to the river around 8:30 and the fog hadn’t quite burnt off. It was one of those mornings when the water is so still, it’s like the river is wishing itself into something else–a mountain lake or an overgrown puddle. I was too early for the Pokemon Go hunters I’ve seen the last few days. Instead, a man parked his car along the sidewalk and sat down on a bench with a fiddle. The sound of a fiddle being played out in the open along the Ohio River balances out whatever might be lacking in skill; he sounded perfect, as if this were the exact melody the river had been waiting for all along.
It’s always a relief to pass out of the sun into the shade at the beginning of the Heritage Trail, running along the railroad tracks. I recently discovered the dirt path that runs parallel to the sidewalk, closer to the river. Passing down onto this trail is like a delightful gift I give to myself in the morning. The street and the sidewalk disappear. The river peaks out from between the trees like a shy but friendly animal. The loudest sound is a bird moving through the trees. I look down at the water and think of flatboats. Bears and bison. Women on horseback or women on bare feet. Indians and settlers and the timeless passage of humans moving along in the shadows. I wrap up our moment–the river and I–and take it with me.
When I head back, the fog is gone. There’s a light breeze rippling across the water. The river is already someone different. It has moved on because this is what it does. It moves on and moves on. Right before I turn back up towards home, I see a great blue heron standing in the shallows. He’s not fishing, but preening. Carefully arranging his feathers and keeping an eye on a vulture down the bank. A fish breaks the surface of the water.
Far away, there’s the echo of other things happening. The rumble of a truck on the bridge. The sound of someone’s television I’ll hear through a screen door. Circuses so fantastic it’s hard to believe they’re real. Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. But the river’s real, too, and the sound of the fiddle. I didn’t imagine that.