November 10, 2006

Langston Speaks of Rivers


I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom
turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

~Langston Hughes
1902-1967

***
The picture above is of the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon, where I grew up. When I read this poem by Langston Hughes many years ago, it touched something within me.

I, too, have known rivers - ancient and dusky rivers.

My native ancestors in Alaska fished on the Bering Sea and on inlets off the Aleutian chain. My father went to sea as a teenager, and later worked on the Columbia River as a bar pilot. My brother was a commercial fisherman and is now a tugboat operator on this river.

Every morning when I woke as a child I turned to the window to check the weather on the Columbia. I remember clearly the sound of foghorns when visibility was low, and the sounds of ships sounding their horns, signaling for pilots. I remember the fishy fragrance of river water, especially when our dogs would come back from swimming in the river. I remember riding the ferry across the Columbia, and later, watching the big bridge being built. I remember going to work with my dad, and can clearly imagine the sounds of water lapping, and the smell of cigar smoke in the cabin of the pilot boat. I remember people - friends and family - who died on the Columbia River. The memory of scattering my dad's ashes from the pilot boat on the Columbia River sand bar a few years ago is still very vivid.

I now live near a smaller river, the Umpqua, that ambles through the county near my home. I love my daily drive along the Umpqua, and I love standing on its shores, skipping stones, inhaling the fragrance, and watching the waters flow. With my family I have loved hiking alongside rivers, and swimming, fishing, and rafting in the waters.

Today I am mesmerized by the reflections of autumn trees on the Umpqua river, and by sunlight sparkling on its jade colored current in the late afternoon.

My connection to rivers is primordial - older than the flow of blood in my human veins.
My soul, too, has grown deep like the rivers.

4 comments:

Imemine said...

I love rivers too. I grew up living very close to one called Pambaling, probably a branch of the Rio Grande de Pampanga or Pampanga River.

Kathleen said...

This is Lovely Meredith...

I too have known rivers... I grew up on the St.Lawrence River... and sat quietly by it as a child... not knowing that it was soothing and healing the difficulties of my childhood. It was always there for me... and is still... and
as I visit it every year... I feel that I have indeed grown to meet it, in it's depths... the River and I are one...

Thank you for this post M... Love, Kathleen

Meredith said...

Perhaps we all grow up with the nearness of rivers... we emerge, and return as rivers do, from and to our source. We know this current.

Smiles to you, my river mates.

Meredith said...

I just found this quote that fits pefectly here:

"It is wonderful how nature is a part of us. The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past but through us."
-John Muir