Sunday, June 24, 2018

when it’s emblazoned on your back, it’s not a hidden message, and the river rises

The river rose fifteen feet Sunday. It was still a few feet from the top of the bank, though in places where the bank is lower it took over low-lying meadows, crept into the woods. The island Josie and I walk to every day disappeared.

otter river upper peninsula

The river dropped a dozen or more feet Monday into Tuesday. By Thursday it had dropped even more. Josie and I walked our usual trail though there was little that was usual about it. It had been ravaged and swept and about halfway along a big wall of debris had been dumped across it. The wall was about eight feet high and several feet thick.

otter river upper peninsula

The first day, Monday, the wall was underwater.

The second day, Tuesday, the wall was adjacent to the water. There was a large muddy puddle in front of it. Josie walked through the puddle, began investigating the wall, looking, no doubt, for a way through. I agreed there were possibilities, but also dangers. At my call, Josie turned back. He took his time and while mucking about in the puddle, he suddenly dropped down. A look of surprise, maybe panic, flashed across his face. He paddled out of the puddle and galloped back up the trail.

Wednesday, the puddle was gone, the wall stood firm. A massive blockade of tree trunks, branches, twigs, sand, mud, pine cones. A whole town could set up in there. We turned back.

Thursday, we moved forward. We proceeded right through the wall. Walls can nearly always be breached. Josie took a lower route through a series of gaps in the debris, I took a higher route going up and around. The bank was steep. The bank was muddy. I used branches and tree trunks for handholds. For a moment, as I slipped, pulled myself up, balanced at the edge of the top of this monstrous pile of flotsam, I thought I was being foolish. I could slip. I could fall. I could get trapped by debris. And I did not know what I would find on the other side. But, once you start a journey, it can be hard to stop, to turn back, because you’ve set your course, made some kind of plan, invested time and effort, perhaps faced a challenge and whether it’s bravery or foolishness you’ve come this far, and it took me just a minute or two to climb up to the top of this wall but that was enough to propel me forward. Josie trotted on ahead, brave and fool-hardy, delighted.

On the far side of the wall, a large smooth tree trunk on its side, roots like a flower before me, needles and cones behind me, continued to block the trail. I stood on the trunk. It felt good, sturdy, and I could see all around. The trail going forward was a mess, obliterated, I was, after all, on a river bottom. But I could see possibilities.

On the island, which was connected to land by a spit of mud, it was nice to see turtle tracks.

Near the island, I wondered what canine had left those huge pawprints in the mud.

And how many nests with eggs had been swept away?

otter river upper peninsula

Chapter 35 of “Beartown,” by Fredrik Backman, begins with this paragraph:
Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
I always thought hate was hard. When I saw someone investing in hating someone or something, I thought, boy, that must take a lot of energy, be draining. And I thought it was fruitless. To what end do you hate? Then Donald Trump became president, and I saw how hate can be easy, so easy—simple—and I saw that hate doesn’t aim to be fruitful, not at all, hate aims to destroy. It has a goal. To tear down. To tear asunder. And hate used to be something I didn’t see much of—I avoided it. Looked away. Didn’t listen; didn’t respond. But that no longer feels possible. Every day now, I see hate. Every day now, I hear hate. I fumble to navigate, get through, go around, rise above. All these walls, all these lives. Just going to the store can be a little weird. The reduction of human beings to four-letter words. The chip-chip-chipping away, the relentless demeaning language of hate—the us, the them, the blame, the just get rid of them and we’ll be fine. Just send them back, and we’ll be fine. A neighbor comes to visit, it can be a little weird. Did she really just say that? We are miles apart. And that which is ignorant and destructive has been so emboldened—it is impossible not to see it, to hear it, to feel it. It takes its toll. Or maybe it’s just that my eyes and ears have been opened, like a flood, and all I want is to never hear that man’s voice again, to never have to see his words. Because it does, indeed, pull asunder.

But the wall is there.

It was easy, after all, to get around the wall of debris. But this wall, these walls—I don’t know.