More Than a River

Lying on the grass, watching the birds, while Mr. Omar was snorkeling in the shallows, I  noticed two hawks circling overhead. They reminded me of vultures. When I saw them, I thought, “Huh, that’s unusual. I don’t normally see raptors here. Wonder if they see something dead or if they’re hunting.” The hawks moved on. I started thinking of flight patterns and recent photographs. I caught a bee to take home and look at under the microscope. Ten minutes later, the police called everyone out of the water. A kid had gone missing in the middle of the dam. At 8 meters deep, no one could reach the bottom to find him. Divers were coming to find the body, now presumed drowned.

I’ve known more than a few people to have met gruesome ends in this country; some harder to stomach than others. I prefer not to dwell on the details; normally, I just light a candle, cry a small river and snuggle my parrot for longer than the daily average.


After one incident that was especially difficult, I found myself on Strandfontein beach, watching this surfing crab ride in on the waves. I followed him around the sand for a while and snapped this photograph. Then I went on to have my candle, cry, snuggle, and life went on.

I didn’t realize how much birds and seas have in the past calmed the storm until in this moment they became players in the drama. But, life moves on, as it must, for it really is short when you think of it; there’s little sense in waste what’s there.  All I can hope is that when my atoms fall back into the void, I hope they will at least find themselves with feelings of having once been happy and well-informed about themselves, playful and ready for their next big adventure.

But that is probably not something to think of, symptomatic of an overly goal-oriented way of thinking. As my mother pointed out, how a day ends shouldn’t diminish the joy you had during it. And it was a beautiful day before the police arrived. I got a new float. The water was super warm and the trees provided ample shade. Music was playing against the backdrop of the mountain. People were happy. Overall, it was a beautiful day in a really beautiful place.


At the dam early in the day, before the crowds.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but too often the journey seems subservient to the goal. The exam, the year, the degree, the job, all take precedence over the actual achieving of these things. Thoughts are filled with too many adjustments and “should have…” analyses to effect a better outcome. I’m kind of surprised that it seems so natural to think of these things when historically women have almost never had “a good end.” Perhaps many have not had a good journey either, but the “happy ending” is usually of most concern.

As a child nothing angered me quite like the “bad ending” in Disney’s Pocahontas. Even with stories of saints and martyrs meeting mostly gruesome ends, death is merely a passed test, an open door to better place. The ending must be happy.

In math and science, though, the ends are also unfortunate, except there’s nothing happy about it. Marie Curie lost her husband and later died from aplastic anemia; Emmy Noether died of ovarian complications; Émilie du Châtelet died in childbirth; Marie-Anne Lavoisier’s husband was executed; Ada Lovelace died of uteran cancer. And that’s that.

One can perhaps believe in a better end for these women if one chooses, though I don’t think it should be necessary to appreciate what they accomplished in their time. Wondering about the loneliness of losing a husband in a way that it overshadows things like winning a Nobel prize, for example, is just pessimistic. Days end. So too, does life and love. Sometimes like Pocahontas you fight for what’s right and you finish with nothing but a heartfelt “wingapo” and some dead leaves blowing in the wind. But that shouldn’t diminish the beauty of what came before it… like Pocahontas’s awesome cliff dive, the talking tree and the epic boyfriend-hair.

Even now, every time I kayak I tend to think of Pocahontas, not of the ending but of the fun she had on the river, the excitement of seeing “just around the river bend.”

Perhaps it’s time to start kayaking through more than just rivers.

chicago trip4

Kayaking at Sugar Creek, Turkey Run, Indiana