“It’s the beauty within us that makes it possible to see the beauty around us. The question is not what you look at but what you see.” — Thoreau
When I first arrived at my river sanctuary I could see through the bushes and the leaves, a single sandhill crane thirty feet away on one of the many long, narrow islands the shallow river had created. Separated by ephemeral streams, the rills and rivulets looked like fingers stretching, searching for the unimpeded flow. I pushed through the tamarisk blind onto a narrow slip of sand, then stopped. Holding my breath, I quickly but quietly doffed my satchel and sat down slow-motion slowly so as not to startle my grey-feathered friend. The crane turned away with mock indifference and headed for the far west bank. I watched, entranced, held captive by the moment.
Shortly, two more cranes emerged from the island bushes to join the larger of the three. Together, on long stilted legs, they preened, stretched, bowed and pecked their way across the damp sand flats until reaching the flow on the western bank. I felt awash in deep gratitude, grateful they didn’t fly away, grateful I was allowed to observe their foraging.
At first, they stood directly across from me on the nearest of the river islands, in truth nothing more than mud flats, where seasonal flora dressed in golden autumn and rusty sage danced their ebb and flow. Having crossed the width of the river, knee deep in the Rio Grande, they turned upstream into the current and set about their day’s business, feeding themselves while their eyes swept the deepest shallows, hoping to spot a fish floating by. Alternately, one would take an alert posture, scanning the banks from left to right as good guards do to assure the group would not fall prey to beast or other fowl. Fascinating to watch.
From the moment I sat on the warm, sunny shore my intuition urged me to join the sandhills, though wary of the water’s depth nearest me. How far up my thighs, my waist, would the river rise? How deep into the ooze might I sink? People have been quicksand-stranded on the river flats, never completely sucked under, but stuck nonetheless, requiring rescue.
Always curious, a nature investigator, I watched the fowl forage, observing how high the river rose on their lanky crane legs, gauging approximation to my own body. Never above their knees I noted; therefore, not above mine. That was the information I needed to get me up off my duff and test the water’s temperature with my toes. Would I follow the cranes? Dare I embark on a simple exploration…alone as I was in a great, wide river valley?
Of course I did, happy to have worn my water Keens. Keen to have worn my happy. Fortunate among beings I stood in this wide, long stretch of the river. Alone. No children cried, no dogs barked, no planes roared or leaf blowers buzzed, no one to answer to…just peace. The warm wind, the welcoming water, so lovely. I basked like a turtle, feeling the energy of the sun infuse my every molecule while downstream visual perspective joined the banks at the bend in the river. I laughed to see the last of the trees had dipped their crowns in gold, at the same time the cottonwoods upstream and nearest to me fluttered in their full, shimmering finery.
Words from a song hummed in my head…I wish I had a river I could sail away on… A gentle breeze enveloped me. The water, the trees, and the land held me rooted yet flowing. Grace rushed over and through me, a purifying cascade.
I do have a river, I realized! I have this river, right here, right now flowing under and around me. My heart sang out the words of another song, this one by Nahko from Medicine for the People …Each day that I wake, I will praise, I will praise…Each day that I wake, I give thanks, I give thanks….. Aloha Ke Akua