28 January 2012


“It may be a derivation of Naraticong, meaning ‘river beyond the island,’ Roaton or Raritanghe, names of a group which had come from across the Hudson and displaced the previous population known as Sanhican (who moved farther into the interior). Alternatively, it is a Dutch pronunciation of the Algonquian wawitan or rarachons, meaning ‘forked river’ or ‘stream overflows.’”

River of my childhood, gauge of every friend I had over, coaxing them to wade deeper and deeper, always getting us in trouble--who was my mom kidding by forbidding it? We always went in. I couldn't make her see the river would never hurt me--all she knew was the dam at Rockafellow's Mill and Paul's daughter's body washing up--but my river knew me. My river was skipped shale and the green leaf red rock river smell and the willow trailing its fingers between the skater-bugs. Seen from all angles over the years, countless hours traipsing along its northern floodplain meadow, scaling the jagged shelves on the farther south shore--even now when I'm raging inside and bolt up from the table and bark that I'm going for a walk, they always know where to find me. On the bridge, watching the current, always facing downstream towards the future, towards what I’ve cast in as it's carried away.

The river has offered many gifts these forty years: half-broken crockery; catfish; stones that still line my kitchen sill; half an eel drug home by an ambitious barn cat; snappers the size of hubcaps; old Mason jars washed out and filled with flowering field weeds, Queen Anne's lace and blackeyed susans and goldenrod and thistle; my mother's mashed-potato spoon, the one piece of kitchenware we'll fight over when she's gone;

Mosquito bites and scraped shins and the stitches through my eyebrow from pickup hockey with the Skolits boys, all twice my puny thirteen-year-old size. The stolen cigarettes and shattered brown glass bottles of my angry adolescence, the stolen kisses with John on our bikes those awful, sticky, sweet, awkward teenage years when the river was my only constant friend;

Three miles and twenty years downstream, the iron bridge, kayak eskimo rolls and mammoth spiders in the haybale and sweetness of your body in the cool shade of the full moon under the bridge all those July midnights when we should have both been elsewhere.

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