Sunday, May 15, 2005


Saturday, May 14, 2005

May 14. It’s finally warm in Northern California. The water is up in the rivers. It’s a great day to paddle. But my knee is still concerning me and I decided to take yet another day off. My dad is pleased that I am (finally?) showing signs of good judgment. However I am not pleased with the weather and the water and the state of my uncooperative joints and how all that means that I am not paddling.

To compensate for my good discretion I picked the steepest trail I know – the one that leads to the crinoids – to mollify my anxious being. I need to prove to myself every now and then these days that I am not a cripple at age 31. I picked my way down the trail with more trepidation than when I had come with Sterling. Perhaps I should invest in a sunflower brace too.

One reason I picked the crinoid spot was because I knew I wouldn’t see any boaters – or probably anybody for that matter. When I got to the water is was only me and the river. Every time I come to the river with my camera I fear that I won’t find anything new to shoot. Every time the river shows me how incredibly naïve that fear is.

Today was the day of debris. I soon forgot about not paddling when my leg bumped against a submerged rusty metal screen. The thing looked fascinating through my camera lens. Bent over spread legs, I was completely absorbed with finding all the angles of light and distortion the thing had to offer. When I heard the scuffle of feet behind me, my body involuntarily jolted with surprise. A man came walking from upstream, white bucket in hand and. He was wearing Carhartt work pants and stout boots. As I regained my composure he faintly acknowledged my presence without breaking stride and rambled on in a steady yet slow pace downstream. Standing in knee deep cold water I watched him crouch underneath a low branch and drop down a steep step of rocks where my backpack lay, then up and over further rocks until he disappeared around a bend and out of sight. Then I became captivated by a spider web stretched in a hole in a rock that potted a single spindly tree.

Simple things absorbed me throughout the afternoon: a submerged red branch with dead grasses looped around it in the current, a piece of egg crate foam suspended in a small thicket of trees one quarter of the way across the river, an empty Splenda package floating in a puddle, a plastic orange ribbon tied to a branch, a minuscule pink flower, a spider, a discarded sluice box and, once again, that metal screen in the water.

After taking excessive amounts of photos of the Splenda package and the like, I sat on a rock next to the sluice box that I had dragged out of the water to write. The Carhart-wearing, bucket-carrying man retraced his earlier steps. ‘Is this yours?’ he asked, pointing to the box. ‘No,’ I answered. Once again without breaking stride, he swooped the thing up in his free hand and continued back upstream the way he had come.

I returned to my writing. Movement caught my eye in the water. I looked up in time to watch two mergansers bob down the middle of the wave train. They were just rubbing in the fact that I wasn’t doing the same myself. Or at least that’s how it felt. So I packed up my bag and started back up the trail.
Fifty yards or so from the road at the top, the man sat in a bend in the trail panting. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ he said. ‘Yup. It’s pretty steep,’ I told him and asked him if he wanted help carrying the thing out. He declined my offer and said he was going to leave it there and come back later. I thought that was curious since he was so close to the end, but said nothing. I have no doubt that it will be gone the next time that I go there. His bucket, I learned, was full with trash he had picked up on the riverbank as he ambled across the rocks. I thought then how very very small the empty Splenda packet was that I had stuffed in my pants pocket to carry out with me.