Word Sketches

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Muddy Water


I watched the brown muddy water slowly swirling around the bend in the sluggish stream. An old snag log stuck up defiantly, causing eddies to circle it, trapping a dead leaf and a small twig in an unending whirlpool.

A weeping willow tree overhung the grassy bank, dipping several long, flexible limbs into the water. The willow leaves appeared to be filtering the flowing water, as though fishing for something to catch.

In a still area of the stream’s curve, water skimmers skated on the surface, as though it was smooth chocolate-colored ice. They skittered hither and yon, but seemed to accomplish nothing.

Some cottonwood seed tufts floated by, like miniature powder-puff barges, bereft of cargo. A small piece of tree bark navigated in the swifter current near the middle of the stream, with a swallowtail butterfly perched precariously on it, seeming to pilot it safely through the shoals.

Occasionally a family of bubbles drifted along, clinging together and clutching at some stray blades of grass drooping into the edge of the flow.

A small host of black gnats tirelessly circled the quiet edge of the water, as tiny wavelets ineffectively slapped at the muddy side of the dark bank beneath them.

I suspected a fast and treacherous current moved in the depths of the stream, out of my perception, although the surface seemed so calm and predictable.

As I pondered this parade of flotsam interacting with the stationary features of the bank and with the stubborn snag, I wondered how often the same scenario played out, over time. How much did the stream, the bank, the snag, and the other members of the scene change, and how much did they remain the same? If I sat at this spot for a decade, would I notice a significant difference in its appearance each day, or would the constantly-altering physical features change so imperceptibly that I could not detect it?

Was I like the stream and the bank – did I change slowly, yet inexorably? Were there dangerous currents below my unperturbed surface? Did I carry a plethora of flotsam, as I made my way through each day?

I felt a kinship with the stream. I was also opaque, sometimes swirling, sometimes calm, carrying tiny burdens, participating in the process of life, often appearing single-minded and uncaring, and continuously eroding what tried to contain me. Would I reach a climactic outpouring, merging into the larger river of life, contributing some rich sediment to history? Or, would I meander onto a broad plain, losing my force of will, until I gradually soaked into the muddy marshland and disappeared from notice?

Thus, I spent an afternoon contemplating a muddy stream and my life.

Gerald McDaniel, October 2003

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