Claire, Emme and I have a free afternoon. Months ago, contemplating the distant prospect of summer, Emme proposed that in occasional spare chunks of time we go on excursions to look for interesting rocks. So now, summer upon us and our first free hours at hand, on go sandals or water shoes and we head off to a secluded stretch of river along a local back road.
We walk from the car down to the water’s edge and begin exploring. For the first five or ten minutes we stick together, walking about in the shallow water, looking around, enjoying the river and the closed canopy of the trees above it, the dappled greenish light and the rushing water. But we are still seeing and feeling with ordinary consciousness. Still experiencing with the mind we bring to the rest of life—fragmented, distracted, thinking about too many things at once, and at the same time narrowly focused.
Slowly our attention broadens and deepens. We slow down and become fully present. We lose ourselves in the river, we take it all in. I think about these metaphors–to lose oneself in something; to take something in. This exchange of being—entering and being entered—rather than skipping over the surface of things, as we so often do.
I see a birch tree leaning over the water whose roots have been undercut by the current, making it a close cousin to the trees I wrote about in In Memory of Trees Not Mine. I wade over to have a closer look and spend some time taking pictures (not great ones; I have my phone but alas not my good camera), watching the smooth water slide beneath the tree, examining the stones caught in its roots, the mosses and ferns at its base. It is woodwaterstone in a new configuration: the tree and its roots suspending stones above the moving river. [View image gallery]
When I look up, I see that we have separated. Claire is about twenty feet down the river, lying back on a tree trunk over the water, trailing a hand in the current and looking up into the trees above. Emme is about thirty feet past her in a little cove, crouching down to examine rocks. The river has worked its magic. We are in a different world than we were when we first stepped into its waters.
And so we work our way downstream, sometimes together, sometimes stringing out. Emme finds a large rock in the middle of the river and lies back on it in a patch of sunlight, looking up into the trees, and when I catch up with her tells me she could stay there for hours. Claire finds another tree trunk to recline on. We collect interesting rocks, look at maidenhair ferns, and at the top of a waist-high waterfall find a fist-sized pothole carved into the bedrock beneath the water’s surface that is so perfectly round and smooth it seems like it must have been hand-polished. Emme keeps one of the pebbles that contributed to its most recent round of scouring.
Eventually we make our way back up the river to the car and return to the ordinary world, a world of narrowed consciousness, abstracted minds, the busyness of things to be done, and the chronic glut of digitally-mediated experience and social media. But we have been our best selves for a while, deeply, and carry a piece of the river with us.
And we have brought it into the tree. We climb up with a bag of chocolate cashew clusters and sit among the branches, eating and talking, the first time the three of us have been up here this summer (one of our first climbs was about a year ago). It is warm and the air is clear and dry, sunlight coming sideways through the branches in early evening. And what is summer without eating chocolate in a tree?
An excellent day’s adventure in wood, water, and stone. [View imagine gallery]