morning stillnessBen Gaa
and yet, the push
of the river
I sit down on a rock, then a log, then stand shifting side to side, then pace, as Ezra spends hours in Tryon Creek, still flowing with enough water to provide a world of interest. He slowly rolls large rocks along the ground and up the banks of the creek, then jumps back down and collects more, handing them up to me from below. I add them to his pile, one rock after another, a pound or two or five, maybe more, until he is satisfied with the size of the pile. Then with a burst of strength he lifts and heaves them into the water with all his might, causing a satisfying thwack as the weight hits water and sends out a wide spray. He shouts with victory and does it again, hitting and missing, refining his technique.
He hurls a few more, then leaves his rock pile for some other Zen hurler, and moves on to the next task at hand, clambering over enormous boulders that line the creek. He spends a long time floating leaves downstream, poking at them with a stick to move them toward the swifter center, one leaf and then another, as each one sinks or sails away. Then it’s large sticks and larger branches to experiment with for a while.
I’m restless, wishing I could emulate his stillness, patience, and immersion into the task at hand, gauging the heft of the stones, observing the various speeds of different parts of the creek, the joy over each waterfall, the serious work of damming the water, then watching to see how each additional rock shifts the water’s course.
I reel back to the days of my own son’s fascination with water, rocks, and sticks, and the many years of flinging, swinging, building, piling. Though this elemental impulse and drive puzzles me, both then and now, there’s joy in the watching. My grandson always brings me back to days with my son, just like his sister brings me back to days with my daughter. Gender or genetics, or some of each; I love the puzzle, enjoying the questions.
I sit quietly to take in the boy and the woods, the mood, the water, the air. But I am not quiet on the inside. How do I settle, listen, take in this stillness around me, while inside there’s riffles and eddies, a rush, and a puddle, sturm and drang, unsettled thoughts?
Between gaps of silence, our conversations range widely. We examine the English ivy covering either side of the creek, perniciously winding up the tree trunks. I tell him about invasive species, and as is his way, he uses the word ‘invasive’ a few times, getting it comfortable on his tongue and firmly seated in his memory banks. How did the first seed get here? he wonders.
He asks what “oblivious” means (out of nowhere it seems!) and then uses it a few times, testing its weight and value. He asks, how did these rocks get here? and I describe the Missoula floods of 15,000 years ago, caused by an ancient Ice Age, that changed the face of the land around us. We watch the water skaters tiptoe along the creek’s surface, and then he skips checking out the banana slug on the path. You never know what will catch him up, and he is the decider today.
Later, on the picnic bench, we eat cherry tomatoes from our garden, and juicy purple grapes from the store. He leans back against me, snuggling in, and ponders how long an Ice Age lasts, and whether he will ever see one.
Then off he goes up the trail at a run, briefly stopping on occasion to make sure I’m still behind him, or he waits at the top of a particularly steep slope. “You did it!” he exclaims, quite proud and pleased, as am I.
We talk about conifers and what that category includes. He knows all about the maples and how the green is leaching out now at summer’s end, turning the leaves yellow. The conifers make the soil acidic, I tell him, and only some things will grow beneath them, like the blueberries in our garden. We examine the ferns that grow rampant, noticing how they grow in the trees’ shade, and he says that they must like acidic soil. I toss the word ‘fronds’ at him, and get in a pun ‘with fronds like these who needs enemies’ and he chuckles. It’s somehow satisfying when a seven-year-old gets your jokes.
We continue our hike, appreciating the way the tree roots create footholds on the steeper paths, and navigating a bridge made from a 4 x 4 board with just enough room for one foot in front of the other. We pass some hikers and Ezra shouts back at them, “It’s pretty steep up ahead, but there are footholds to help.” They thank him, and he turns to me and says, “I gave them confidence.”
Back at the creek, we watch from a comfortable distance as four blond boys play with some bark boats that they made, complete with stick masts and leaf sails. He calls down a suggestion about how they could clear some rocks out of the water to make the pond deeper.
“You come down and do it,” one calls back up.
“No, ” Ezra replies from behind his mask, “after quarantine I will.”
One of the boys, not much older than Ezra, maybe eight, gets a faraway look in his eye and answers, “Quarantine will never be over. We’ll always have Covid.”
And we all were silent after that, considering.
They go home, and leave one boat behind for a delighted Ezra, who proceeds to investigate its seaworthiness, and then destroys it by heaving stone after stone at it from the bridge above, until it splinters. Creation and destruction, it’s all one to him, exploring life’s mystery.
How I want to capture this presence of his; just sit with the creek’s burbling, and not reach for my phone for a distraction, not consider the desperation of a world gone mad, not get too far into considering the future, or lingering over the past. There’s just suffering either way, and here I am with a beautiful boy with a keen mind, a forest of conifers, and a stream that trickles on and on.