Saturday, December 20, 2008


Even before we bought and moved into our modest streamside cottage, we noted the property came with natural background music courtesy of the river. There's a large riffle or small section of rapids, depending on your subjective nomenclature, directly in front of the house. Many of our neighbors actually refer to this feature, a four-foot drop in the river level over perhaps seventy feet, as "the falls," though in my opinion, that's certainly stretching reality a bit too far. On the other hand, when someone in a canoe comes floating downstream, and has enough expertise (or maybe just luck) to negotiate the riffle/rapids smoothly, I can almost squint my eyes and fool myself momentarily into imagining our home faces a northcountry trout stream. This fantasy is helped if the canoeist is wearing a flannel shirt and the canoe is either hollyberry red or spruce green and not one of those modern day-glow non-traditional hues such as lime, tangerine, yellow, or purple. Anyway, water pouring across this stony, sloping portion of riverbed, coursing over ledges and washing against boulders as it hurries downstream, naturally makes noise—a dull purling roar that has become a comforting part of the auditory landscape. It has even given us a tentative name for our cottage…Riversong…though we're still trying to decide whether or not naming our home is too pretentious, too old-fashioned, or too influenced by all the British mysteries we've read. Like most background noises—soothing “white noise” in particular—the river’s voice is now something we have to consciously listen for or it’s generally unnoticed. The exception comes when we open the sliding glass door to the small front deck overlooking the riffle and pool below, and are startled anew at how really loud the river’s constant sound seems. We forget this because the cottage walls are solid Indiana limestone, a full 17-inches thick. Beside being bulletproof and more-or-less fireproof, substantial stone walls are also soundproof—no chit-chatting between even adjacent rooms unless you conduct your conversations at a shout. These stone walls effectively block the river’s voice—or certainly mute most of it—until it takes something like sliding open the deck door, or opening the front door, and hearing the sudden noise to remind us there’s a river only a few feet away. I guess I should also explain that we always think of the river end of the house as being the "front" even though the main entry door is on the side of the structure and you actually park and approach the house from the rear, where there's a second, smaller "back" door. Until it rained yesterday and the day before, the river had been silent for months. So long that I can’t remember the last time I heard a sound from its passage. Low water had exposed the riffle’s stones and ledges, revealing them like skeletal bones in a decaying carcass. The water was so low that it simply slipped between the dry rocks like a thief sneaking through a room. The rain changed that. The water was up a few inches yesterday morning; more by noon; and still coming up last night at bedtime. Today it continues to rise, slowly, and is now up enough that all the stones in the riffle/rapids are underwater, which means about a three or four foot rise since Thursday. What makes this special—and the reason for writing—is that along with the higher water level has come sound…the river’s voice has been restored! A dull but fast growl with just a hint of possible seriousness at its undertone edge. The same river voice that accompanies many of spring's rainy weeks. Moreover, as is often the case when you bump into a friend you haven’t seen or heard from in quite awhile, you suddenly realize their absence had left a hole in your life; you missed them more than you realized. That’s how I feel about hearing the river’s renewed song. I’ve missed it a lot and I’m glad to have it back. Now if the river gods will just hold things where they’re at, check the rising water from coming up higher…well, I’ll be happy and perfectly satisfied.

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