Going With The Flow

A sparse snow had just started to fall, tiny flakes floating to the ground with the buoyancy of dust particles in a ray of sunlight piercing the woodshed window, as I stood Wednesday morning along the backyard bank of Hinsdale Brook; pooch Lily scampering along its frozen edge, likely following cold scent of a coon, mink or possum, oblivious to the murmurs of spring whispering from deep beneath a foot or two of ice and its crystalline surface. I find it surreal how moving water, its ebbs and flows, sights and sounds, can bring peace and perspective to a perceptive soul. I’m sure maritime men feel the same about the sea; it talks to them, whispers, screams, breathes warmly down their neck. But I’m an inlander, a freshwater man who often compares day-to-day and seasonal stream alterations to life’s transitions.

I guess I have felt a mystical attachment to flowing water since skating, fishing or just horsing around with boyhood pals on Bloody Brook, along which my Arms ancestors, once Sunderland tanners and cobblers, built a profitable 19th-century pocketbook shop, by my time a decaying, red, three-story Victorian plastic shop piping horrible, raw, rust-colored poison into the water below. That building’s now long gone, replaced by Cowan Auto Supply.

My riparian lure only grew stronger in later years, when dropped off by my mother at West Brook in Whately or Mill River in Deerfield for a day of trout fishing; spinning rod in hand; leaky hip boots and worm bucket fastened to my belt; wicker, fern-lined creel looped over my shoulder and neck. It taught me to read water, respect it, compare its riffles and pools, runs and eddies to the game of life.

Still later, I moved to similar streams a little farther off, the South and Bear rivers in Conway, where I honed my angling skills and discovered a bigger, more dangerous river called the Deerfield, just a larger version of its tributaries, worthy of more respect. Yes, one must respect big rivers like the Deerfield, which can swallow a man in an instant, then spit him out in a body bag, stocking-foot waders still strapped over the shoulders, belted at the waist.

Although I no longer fish, I may be more in tune with streams now than then, all because of the backyard brook that carries the surname of the original taverner to call my property home. I observe that free-flowing, stone-bed stream several times daily, find myself just standing there on the bank, often thinking how it symbolizes life and parallels our moods: slow and sluggish in summer; frozen and narrowed to random slits in winter; full of energy and emotion in spring and after heavy rains, even those of winter, when sudden freshets transport large, dangerous ice flows and bobbing logs to bottomland destinations, out of harm’s way. It’s like the stream speaks to me daily, reminding me we’re all in this together.

It was that soft murmur of spring muffled under thick ice, amplified by cold, still air that reached my ears this morning; an optimistic sound distantly related to the lazy snowflakes falling. It made me wonder if a man who interprets nature this way is losing his mind or gifted. Then I realized it doesn’t matter. Judge it as you may. I know who I am.

Leave it to the eye of the beholder.

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