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I try, but mostly I can't shut up...

A new essay

Below is an essay I've submitted to the New River Writers in Blacksburg who are mounting an exhibit of photos and the writing they inspire. The photo to the right of this post is the photo I have written about below:

Under the Bridges
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The morning started out refreshingly cool; a quick little shower had wet the pavement and then moved on. Beside the road, we found a small parking lot, the ubiquitous brown wooden government issue sign denoting the place to put in your boats. Claytor Lake Dam loomed industrially in the background.

The usual general commotion commenced, hoisting canoes and kayaks down from the tops of cars, or out of the backs of trucks and vans. Paddles were snapped together and life vests secured (or not). Early morning sunshine began to filter through the tops of trees, promising a warm late summer day, but not a scorcher.

The usual organizational bumps and moans could be heard as well: “Where’s my car keys…” “Has so-and-so shown up yet?” “Would you put this in your kayak?” “What time is lunch?” “Where are the reporters – do you have their cell number?”

August 5 for me was among only a handful of days where I’d not be looking for those lunches, finding take-outs, shuttling cars, or answering endless questions. This day my own kayak was going in the water - with me in it for a change – as I floated down the New River on the National Committee for the New River’s Expedition, leaving the work onshore to others. Sure, there’d still be questions, and I’d take the time to capture some pictures, but I could leave my dusty beat-up car behind and float…maybe not too closely to anyone else. Maybe there’d be some silence, some plop of jumping fish, a skittering of shoreline animals playing, or just the sound of my paddle softly hitting the top of the water, pulling me along with the current.

I eagerly pushed off into the water and hopped into my bright little yellow kayak, “Marigold.”

The river was wide here compared to my home turf, where the two forks of the New River meander in curves for miles and miles, sometimes feeling more like creeks than the famed oldest river in North America. And here, where the river really begins to expand, are the larger stamps of human activity, walls of concrete and steel forming dams and bridges, forever altering the character of the river as it flows northward.

People who work in conservation are often resentful of such structures. Each becomes a personal affront to their sensibilities; they count the hurts as they paddle along. No indiscretion of human activity is too small to note, every scraped off bank a wound, every building a scar.

But this day I just kept my mouth shut because I really like bridges. I like to lean back and float underneath them, staring up at the structures, trying to figure out how they’re put together. I take pictures or even a few seconds of video to capture my fun.

On this part of the river, where multiple bridges are fairly close together it was even more interesting. One of the kayakers drifting alongside me broke the sweet silence to tell me about the old pylons still standing like great stone pillars, with no road or train bed spanning them; seems the structure was blown up during the civil war for one reason or another.

When I floated under the railroad span I could hear a train approaching and did a couple of turns around the center abutment so I could be under it when the train crossed. All the great rattling and roaring was exhilarating, in a kind of amusement park ride sort of way. The young blue heron perched on the concrete support seemed not to notice either the train or me.

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