I don’t understand the point of celebrating gratitude by indulging in gluttony. Rather I choose to celebrate gratitude by getting into rivers to watch the abundance of life and rejoice in the diversity of even our most common streams. That’s what I did this Black Friday, got into a creek most people don’t even notice as they go about their daily disconnected business.
The flow is up and the river is receding after a day of rain. Fresh leaves are matted to cobbles that are now exposed to the air, but were underwater just a day ago. The creek is a little milky. This stream drains a few wetlands and so the water is stained a dark tannic acid orange, and the water looks like black tea.
The bottom is really different. I was last here during the shad migration last spring. The bottom is heavily cobbled, and so it doesn’t move as much as some of the sand bottomed streams I explore. But since my last visit, a gorge has been cut from hardened sandy clay strata and it feels like I am flying over the Grand Canyon. A darter shoots up river through the ravine and lands on a wider flatter section of the layered substrate. This is part of a continuous cycle of river formation and alteration. Water flows, and carves. Sands deposit in another section and a sand bar forms. It’s all part of eons old processes that I get to experience when I snorkel rivers.
I drift feet first through a riffle and come into a deeper sand bottomed pool. The whole thing has a tangerine glow, and it feels like I imagine snorkeling on Mars would feel, if Mars had water. Wave shadows dance on the red orange smooth sand bottom. Schools of minnows are gathered in the deeper water preparing for the full onset of winter and cast hundreds of red shadows through the sunlight shafts. Even the three darters that hop along the sand bottom are dyed orange. I marvel that life is here at all, let alone in the abundance and variety this small overlooked, nondescript creek contains. Life, and all of its cycles, is a miracle.
A friend’s son died yesterday and as much as I tried to let the river wipe thoughts of that tragedy away, it didn’t. Watching fish and wondering about their behaviors gave momentary breaks, but questions of why and how persisted, and the pain for her loss was constant.
Life is fleeting. We never know what is in store for us or when ours will end. We need to live it to its fullest, whatever that means. For me that means exploring creeks most people don’t think about, feeling connected to the life that calls these aquatic places home, and being mindful that I am part of something much larger by experiencing powerful cycles. I am grateful for the reminder on this Black (Tea) Friday