Time, and the River

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe

Text of "Time, and the River"

From my nature journal, April 25: One of my favorite ways of retreating from the noise and hurry of everyday life is to go down to the large river flowing through our mountains. The ‘French Broad’, so named to distinguish it from the Rocky Broad, drains several mountain counties, flows north and west carrying the waters of hundreds of smaller streams. With all its seasonal moods from low-water droughts to raging floods, the river evokes a strange mix of both power and peace---sensations similar to those I feel walking by the sea. When I slow down and truly listen to the river, I can hear the timeless cadence of deeper rhythms. The cacophony of our smaller, internal clocks is hushed by the long, wild music of endless water rushing over rocks and shoals. The frantic urgencies of ‘civilized’ life subside. The river enables me to let them go.

Today I stop along the scenic river road at a remote spot, and climb down a steep bank to a narrow sandbar beside the lapping waters. Early spring sun glitters the surface of the river, running full of highland snows and heavy winter rains. The trees are still leafless and gray as January, but a warm wind is blowing fresh from the south. Only the Red Maples are in bloom. Already, their tiny scarlet flowers are falling to the turbulent water, and floating away.

I walk the crude riverside trail over tree roots, vines and rocks. Out of the brown leaf-mat scattered Trout Lilies are emerging. Delicate yellow petals nod over dappled green trout-shaped leaves. Hosts of other wildflowers will be blooming in coming weeks.

The northward migrations of spring birds have barely begun, but today I see some unusual visitors to the river. A dozen or so large black Cormorants have gathered in the sun on a sandbar in mid-river. Normally coastal birds, these wary wayfaring strangers are facing the sun, wings spread wide to gather warmth. While I watch the Cormorants from behind a large Sycamore, a raft of nine Canada Geese comes honking wildly up-river, flying low over the water. I step from behind the Sycamore, and the Cormorants take flight together, rapid wing-beats taking them downstream to another sandbar several hundred yards north.

I pause at a sandy side-wash on the river’s edge. These little pockets are marked with raccoon and heron tracks. The sand gleams bright with purple mussel shells and bits of drifted ‘river wrack’---the broken polished flotsam of the last century’s floods. I collect shards of dishes, pottery, glass and stoneware---the tumbled, river-polished relics of earlier times. Before leaving, I stand a few moments, eyes closed, listening to the long rushing music of mountain waters.

Today I stop along the scenic river road at a remote spot, and climb down a steep bank to a narrow sandbar beside the lapping waters. Early spring sun glitters the surface of the river, running full of highland snows and heavy winter rains. The trees are still leafless and gray as January, but a warm wind is blowing fresh from the south. Only the Red Maples are in bloom. Already, their tiny scarlet flowers are falling to the turbulent water, and floating away.

I walk the crude riverside trail over tree roots, vines and rocks. Out of the brown leaf-mat scattered Trout Lilies are emerging. Delicate yellow petals nod over dappled green trout-shaped leaves. Hosts of other wildflowers will be blooming in coming weeks.

The northward migrations of spring birds have barely begun, but today I see some unusual visitors to the river. A dozen or so large black Cormorants have gathered in the sun on a sandbar in mid-river. Normally coastal birds, these wary wayfaring strangers are facing the sun, wings spread wide to gather warmth. While I watch the Cormorants from behind a large Sycamore, a raft of nine Canada Geese comes honking wildly up-river, flying low over the water. I step from behind the Sycamore, and the Cormorants take flight together, rapid wing-beats taking them downstream to another sandbar several hundred yards north.

I pause at a sandy side-wash on the river’s edge. These little pockets are marked with raccoon and heron tracks. The sand gleams bright with purple mussel shells and bits of drifted ‘river wrack’---the broken polished flotsam of the last century’s floods. I collect shards of dishes, pottery, glass and stoneware---the tumbled, river-polished relics of earlier times. Before leaving, I stand a few moments, eyes closed, listening to the long rushing music of mountain waters.