The Northern Michigan JournalPREVIOUSNEXT

River Song
by Gwen Foor

River, take me along,
In your sunshine sing me your song.
Ever moving and winding and free,
You rolling old river,
You changing old river,
Let's you and me, river,
Run down to the sea.

Bill Staines
Perhaps it's my Hungarian gypsy ancestry that draws me to rivers. Maybe I was a voyageur or a brook trout in one of my past lives. It could even be due to the fact that I'm a Sagittarius, which is a fire sign and everyone knows fire signs are drawn to water. It's something I ponder often; why does moving water play such an important part in my life?

I grew up on a farm in the flatlands of central lower Michigan. A huge ditch ran along the gravel road in front of our house and there were several small cricks, as we called them, that rambled through the surrounding woods and fields. My two younger brothers and I spent many an afternoon exploring the crickbanks for tracks or frogs or an occasional minnow. We built dams that would put a beaver to shame in the spring, moaned with disappointment when they dried up in the hot summer and rerouted them in the fall so we'd have a good place to skate when winter arrived.

My parents are probably the real reason I love rivers. Although my Mom is terrified of deep water and hates to swim, she never hesitates to swap her vaccuum cleaner for a canoe paddle or a fishing rod. My Dad, who is most likely part bear and therefore immune to black flies, ticks and the infamous northern Michigan mosquito is also (and this is just my guess) part fish. He's a great swimmer and took it upon himself one summer to teach us all how to swim, except my Mother, of course. He would piggyback us out to a huge boulder in about 6 or 7 feet of water, hand us a big rock and tell us to hold onto it until we touched the bottom. Meanwhile Mom was having heart palpitations up on the shore. But not us. We were swimming and loving it.

Dad's immunity to bugs and his love of water and the outdoors contributed immensely to his evolution as a fine fisherman. And just as with swimming, he was determined to teach us all he knew. Personally, I believe it's safer to teach your teenager how to drive a car than it is to teach three youngsters how to fish, but Dad has always been a brave soul. I remember my first trout fishing experience with him. I was probably 9 or 10 years old and as we all know, observation is the first step to learning how to do something well. I was told to take my pretend fishing rod and stay put in a shallow part of the river where the water was only up to my knees. With his creel over one shoulder and a stogie between his lips, Dad kept one eye on me and one on the deep pool upstream where he was headed.

I was thrilled to be a part of it all! A real father-daughter fishing expedition. The warm sun on my shouders. The cool water rippling around my legs. Silvery dragonflies darting here and there. The thick sweet smell of wild roses wafting from the riverbank.

Now it's only a guess but I think Dad had just gotten his first nibble right about the time I let out a blood-curdling scream. It wasn't that I didn't want him to catch anything. It wasn't that at all. It was simply my reaction to whatever it was that had crawled up my pantleg and attached itself to my right calf. This being a new Otter Creek Music of Suttons Bay--on and offline, the best source for all your music experience, I had nothing real to compare it to so the image that surfaced in my terrified mind was of a giant, gaping set of saber-toothed jaws covered with green slime, lots of blood (my blood, of course) and an occasional body part (mine as well) or two (OK, so I'd watched a few too many "Swamp Thing" movies with the babysitter!).

There I was, frozen into a state of hysteria, unable to even look down for fear that my leg would be gone, screaming at the top of my lungs. What scared me more though, was the look on Dad's face as he turned to see what was wrong. His teeth clamped tight on the smoldering stogie as he fixed his eyes on me like a bull ready to charge. Strange mutterings rumbled from deep within his belly as he cautiously made his way back over the rocky river bottom towards me. I grabbed tight onto his fishing rod as he handed it to me (a small favor for someone who was about to save my life) and was still screaming bloody murder when I heard that one final expletive escape his lips. I felt him straighten to his full height and when I finally opened my eyes, there, from his massive fingers dangled a tiny pink crayfish about half the size of a crayola crayon. It hadn't even drawn blood. I hobbled back to the bank of the river, for effect mostly (could I help it if I had a low pain threshhold?) and tried to look thankful as Dad silently packed up his gear to head back to camp. Nope, Dad hadn't caught any fish that day, but he did have a new story to tell. And believe you me, he's still tellin' it!

I feel blessed that my brothers and I have been fortunate enough to have rivers in our lives and parents who 've taught us to love and repect them. Not too long ago I sat with Dad one morning in late summer along the rust-colored banks of the Sucker River in Lake Superior State Forest. My parents, my brother and I had brought my niece and nephew to this wild place. One of the same wild places we'd been brought to as kids twenty five or so years earlier. Bearsign, birdsong and blueberries bursting over the riverbanks had filled our days while the nights echoed their own songs. Songs of coyote and the river. Lullabies for some, imaginative adventures for others. We'd be leaving soon, too soon.

As we sipped our hot mugs of freshly perked camp coffee and watched the sun explode over the eastern horizon, we first heard and then saw a pair of sandhill cranes fly up and across the river toward the sandy upland plain where they would feed until mid-morning on snakes, frogs, insects and berries. The hot crackle of our fire and the soft gurgle of the river were temporarily drowned out by the loud trumpeting of those magnificent birds. How could I tell this man sitting next to me how grateful I was to him for all that he'd shown me? We had both come a long way in twenty-five years. Most of it together in one way or another. It was a new day and this was a good place, beside the river. A good place for talking.

So yes! Sing me a river song. Whether it's Bill Staines at the Cedar Tavern, "Old Man River" on Broadway or a River Jordan gospel mornin'--a river song will take you wherever it is you want to go. Take it from me. Don't spend too much time wondering about why you like it, just grab a paddle or a note and get on board.
So with our hopes, we raise the sails
To face the winds once more,
And with our hearts we chart the waters,
Never sailed before.

We are the boat, We are the sea
I sail in you, You sail in me.

Lorre Wyatt

Links From This Article
A Grandmother's Gift by Gwen Foor Uncle Art by Gwen Foor
Cabin Fever! by Gwen Foor Winds of Change by Gwen Foor
Harvesting Berries, Harvesting Hearts by Gwen Foor

The Northern Michigan JournalPREVIOUSNEXT

mail to nmj
copyright 1996 manitou publishing company
all rights reserved

NMJ Land - NMJ Views - NMJ Community - NMJ Living

NMJ Home Page

webdesign by leelanau communications

northern michigan journal advertisers