Jan 13, 2010 | Metolius River, OR
Jan 13, 2010

With all of this talk about water and what you should do when you find yourself in it, I returned today to a river I walked in warmer and sunnier times.

The clean old air of Sisters was happily back in my lungs, the trees were tall again overhead, and the ground was soft and muddy, for the snow had all melted and it had been raining.

I walked along the empty river in a trance, pausing often to look up and around, or to smell, to touch, or to listen, and one time even to taste.

After a couple of miles I thought I saw a drowning bird in the water, stuck on the bottom. The water was going very fast and the thing was trembling madly, so it was hard to see what it was. It looked like an exotic cockatoo in a desperate suicide dance, or a whiskered fish with a fin pinned down by a rock, or an octopus or a baby squid in trouble, or some kind of bendable skeleton that needed my help. Whatever it was, I suddenly knew my whole life depended on saving this thing from the river.

I told the thing to hold on, and searched the field for a stick. There was a fallen tree whose roots were exposed to the sky like a splintered cathedral, and the wood was very wet. I grabbed onto a root and rocked it around until it got loose and then broke. With muddy hands I trotted back to the stream with the stick to see if the underwater thing was still there. It was, and I pushed and poked and pulled and prodded it but it kept rolling away, like a hurt and dying squirrel too afraid to take your help.

This pole dance kept going, and the longer it lasted, the more certain it seemed that this was a test that could not be failed.

Finally I managed to drag the mystery thing into the bank. Crouching down, I reached my arm deep into the water to grab it. I pulled it up and lay it out on the dirt. It was not a bird or a fish or a bendable skeleton but the root of a plant. Lying there on the dark earth it looked alien, and maybe in a way it was.

I continued along the path and passed a patch of grass I'd seen before, but now it was brown and not green.

I had gone a few miles without seeing anyone and then came to a clearing, where there was a summer house, closed for the winter and abandoned. The house looked down at the river, and as I looked up at the house, I saw there was someone looking back at me, and then everything started to make sense.