A tree falls in the forest; no one hears. With a mighty snap, a boom and magnificent cascade of whooshing water she begins her journey to the sea. No one heard, perhaps, but they did make it into a movie.
A thousand years later, the mountains are still young. An equally young author sits to the side of Sunset Falls, where a million gallons of river roar through a channel so narrow it tempts his mind into a death defying leap to the other shore. The image is rendered sharp by the contrast to a sure death that would lie in failure.
Maybe it was a fleeting thought, perhaps the conversation was held in eternity, but he saw that tree on her journey to the sea. Saw her floating through churning rapids, bark and limbs shorn from her body, trunk pulverized by boulders and ultimately ground to mud by an endless stream of sand, whiling away her grain and structure.
On a late evening in 1910, the city of Missoula, Montana, slumbers peacefully, and a river runs through it.
“Droooooop, Plunk!” A solitary fern has survived the swell of recent rains, its roots anchored fast to its submerged island paradise. The pressure of current builds behind its foliage and with a drawn out “drooooop!” it bows its head beneath the surface of the river. “Plunk!” with the miracle of kinetic energy stored, and the inherent strength of the vegetable family, it throws its head back in defiance, sending droplets of river water from its fronds spraying into the air. Again the pressure builds. “Droooop, Plunk!”
Below, water cascades into water with a reverberating and percussive roar. Currents are lapping on stone to every frequency of sound, and the constance of the minutest interval. A billion bubbles dive into the basin, to rise again to the surface, each with its own indistinguishable “Pop!”
All faculty of aural perception is inundated by sound. No wavelength—or perhaps even thought thereof—is left undisturbed, leaving the observer only with the homogeneity of silence, the rushed static of entropy, and perhaps to the lucky, the vision of awesome power thrumming in repetition.
Somehow, almost impossibly, a voice drifts in from the forest.
“I guess it’s just us McCleans!” (A River Runs Through It). Paul’s voice quivers with the madness of the mountains, a madness that will not—or cannot—expect to survive the day.
Norman pauses for a moment, and with a dubious but growing confidence begins to remove his excess clothing—the cotton that kills—and clambers into the rocking boat.
The author keeps record from his seat at the falls. Two sets of fleet fly by, their enormous girth, density and weight softly compressing a millennia’s worth of peat moss and pine needles. Their forester’s constitution leaves a series of gravity wells, slowly diminishing dimples on the soft and springy forest floor. If they notice the man, pen in hand, they do not pause to take heed.
Following shortly is the boat, gaining speed in the narrowing current, glancing off racks and boulders that have stood unmoved by the centuries. It comes through unscathed, bearing the two fragile souls of McClean toward the precipice of annihilation, the fulcrum where nature collides. There they hang, for a single instant, half afloat and half in flight, as the sailor who tacks upwind on tempestuous seas.
The boat plunges in to the froth and foam and with a sharp crack and a splinter it is torn asunder.
The scene pictured here is perhaps an entire sixty seconds of the movie “A River Runs Through It”. Conversation is minimal. The director instead chooses to display the scene through imagery and carefully contrasted volume in rapids, versus the awesome thrum of power where it is compressed through granite and galena. A study of nature is found here at its clearest, from ‘Shooting the chutes” to the death of young Paul McClean, to the recital of the poem “Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth. This film shows again and again we should be no more concerned with the frailty and temporary nature of human existence, than the awesome and godly power of nature incarnate.
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. (Wordsworth)A River Runs Through It”
A River Runs Through it. Dir. Redford, Robert. Perf. Craig Shaffer and Brad Pitt. 1992. Film.
Wordsworth, William. Ode: Intimations of Immortality. Recollections of Early Childhood. 1804. Web.
February 14, 2015
Happy Valentines Day! My fair lass blew through today. Snow intends to stay in the stormy skies, and for now the roar of the wind will rival the rumble of thunder and lightning. Not the high pitched howl of a mountain’s desperation, but the low reverberating thrum of power, compressed through the square edges and narrow channels of the city; of branches skittering down along the pedestrian mall; of platform shoes clattering off to take some unknown shelter. Leaning close we find we can add creaking in the trunks of the old maples that line the streets as they sway in the wind.
There is a periodic smash as some display is torn from its table; the tinkling of shattered glasses and service for two washing down the boulevard sounds gentle compared to the formless wind pounding on broad, rectangular faces and cubic buildings. We can see storm clouds fly across the sky behind the silhouette of branches whipping violently, lashing shadows that audition for some deranged horror movie.
Aye, look there: a patch of blue. Now the lighter skies fly against the monochrome of churning cotton balls and ashen hues. Here is the languid philosopher lifting his head from above the clouds, suggesting a dreamy hawaiian sunset behind the dark and tumultuous thoughts of a purely kinetic existence. “It is here!” he insists. “Couples touching hands, a silken head of hair, the breath of a beautiful woman caressing the stoic demeanor of a weather lined face!”
Perhaps tonight I will sleep outside with her, see if we cannot anchor the earth with the glimpse of the universe. Surely it must be a powerful moment to witness a distant star through such violence. As Jupiter must fear the surges of intergalactic wind and gravity wells, so are we vulnerable to the more insignificant powers perched lightly here on Terra, offering to sacrifice my existence without so much as a thought or choice. This can only marry into a holy moment, ready to be seized by its own mortality, a new triumvirate, the frailty of providence, the infinite universe, the massive Earth clinging tightly to its fragile existence through the eyes of one soulful denizen.
We wonder if when the end comes it will come like this. Some say it will end in drought, some say the end realized is an infinite ocean. The imaginative among our learned community say the air will condense into boiling acid and burn the flesh from our bones over the course of a week or two. Or perhaps it will end in murder and we will irradiate any surviving life out of existence. Either way there is a path we can tread to avoid this, and we can be sure the answer is in the magic of these moments.
I think I saw a flag fly by just now, borne by her majesties avatar. A flag, probably attached to a flagpole, a lance and a banner, a knight incorporeal, borne on invisible steed, charging with frantic purpose through the citizenry, hopefully a near miss for the unfortunate soul who has yet to find cover.
A woman–let us call her Windswept–dashes across the way, her hair waving in the madness, a swirl of motion, up down and left and right all by the same token: the holiness of devastation. An empty trash can charges after her, a bold gesture but after a last moment of hesitation rolling away to some unknown end. A sandwich board flattens and teeters, and with a startling ‘clap!’ it falls to the ground and grinds across the brick in flight from the manic violence of its cousin. His cousin who, unable to control the excitement immediately gives chase.
The sandwich board, filled with fear, calls out to a table cloth that is skirting by. “Help! The trash can…!” Its voice fades as it concentrates on a dodge and a new strategy of escape.
The cloth joins the fray, giving chase, feinting left and feinting right. Their antics become a swirling motion, a tornado of commercial grade items slowly making its way down the mall. Another flag pole gallantly flies by, daring all in its path to engage. “twould be a duel to the death, a matter to end all matters. All ye who would oppose, oh how ye live in despair”
The heat rose in the frothing pitcher, and the palms of Davin’s hand started to burn. The words barely came through the scream of the steam wand on his espresso machine. The woman who had ordered the latte was concerned about the city council meeting this evening.
“I don’t think they can do it” Davin yells, as he is cutting off the steam. The high pitched whine recedes into a burble. With a deft motion of the wrist the image of a flower ascends from the depths of the drink. “They simply don’t have the time or money to consider an expansion”.
Davins mind goes back to the night before. It is dark and the fireflies blink in and out among the trees on the bank of the river. A beer can is wedged in the rocks beside him, hopefully an antidote for the hallucinations of a sleep deprived week. Headlights play in the foliage, the illumination casting the shifting silhouette of trees on trees. In the darkness the bushes and branches take on a demonic life as they wave in the wind, threatening to pounce on him or come sneaking up behind.
The woman smiles at her drink and thanks him. “Well I hope you are right! You know what they are going to do with Family Affairs!”
Davin volunteers his morning hours talking to people with shattered families and custody issues. Sometimes his clients just need to talk, other times they are looking for resources. Usually they leave with a little less resentment and maybe even a bit of respect for the other parent. His afternoons are spent making hot drinks on a cart downtown, the milling patronage stopping by for a chat and coffee, always leaving with a smile.
His mind is whirling in trepidation. The folks at the child support office had revoked his license to drive some time ago, and he has no way to pick up his son. He still hasn’t met the new boyfriend that is living with his ex. If he is anything like the last one Davin has plenty of cause to worry. He goes over his lawyers checklist. White picket fence, check, tenured employment, check. Custody is two years away and every day he can’t see his son is another red mark on his record.
Exhaustion overtakes him and the demons lurking in the trees wend their way into his dreams, translating their intent for the new paradigm. He has fallen asleep now. The pain of leaning on the sharp edges and hard rocks has faded into a different reality.
It would seem funny, even alien, to a person watching from outside this situation. Such a nice man, they say, wonderful with kids. His own boy is currently in the mothers’ custody. Visitations have gone back and forth since the boy was born. Sometimes she leaves them together for months at a time. They might fly across the country or just hang out around home. Now the mother has found a new boyfriend and doesn’t have any practical use for a father figure. Davin already recognizes the pattern, It may be months before he sees his son again.
For now, they say, he keeps his parenting up to date by helping with the children of friends and family.
A little boy lays curled up in his lap. His own son, he knows, was dropped off with his mother two days ago. Confused, he watches as the boy stirs and squirms out of his arms. A word of consternation is on his lips but he realizes he is still paralyzed with sleep. The boy gets up. Davin, struggling to shout warning can only watch in horror as the boy idly looks around then makes his way across the perilous bank of jagged rock towards the swirling darkness of the river.
Davin jumps from his daze of exhaustion. The little stool he uses as his perch when there are no customers present squeaks as he hops to his feet. “Hello! You startled me!” He says.
A young lady stood at attention across the counter from him. She was new enough that Davin hadn’t met her yet, which is pretty darn new around this part of town.
“I like your snail.” she says, indicating the silver pin Davin had been wearing on his jacket. He had noticed that people tend to smile a little more often when he wore something shiny on his clothes, so had picked it up from a local jeweler. A jeweler who, surprisingly, was offering something he could afford other than the watch battery he had gone in for.
Davin takes in the ball of color and texture that had drifted up to his cart. Pretty. Adorable even, what with all the contrasting jacket and gloves and such. Not smiling. Maybe even a little hunched over for some unknown travail.
“Thank you.” Davin replies. “Its from Eleanor Jewelry, I was surprised I could afford it. May I make you something?”
“Latte, please.” says the colorful woman.
Davin goes about setting up the various cups and filters and pitchers he will need to complete the task. Again, the scream of the steam wand fills up the air and Davin’s mind drifts off in memory.
The boy has wandered off. Davins mind is screaming in horror as he struggles to move, struggles in vain to call out to his son. Finally, with a dragging feeling and an audible snap he comes awake. His voice shatters the stillness, the single phrase “Franklin, where are you?!” in desperate tone cuts into the air, across the river, across the rocks, throughout the demon shaped shrubbery and out to the busy street beyond.
“I like the scarf.” he says, waving at the blue and pink scarf she has tied around her neck. “Those are definitely your colors!”
The girl smiles. “Thank you! A friend of mine back home made it for me.”
“Not from around here?”
“No, Chicago.” She replies. ”Hopefully I will get to move back some day. I really miss being around my friends and family.”
She pauses a moment and says “My name is Amber.”
“Well I can understand that, Amber. I came here for three months ten years ago.”
Davin is rewarded with a chuckle for the irony of his mathematics. “What happened?”
“Well three years were for a girl, the last seven for my son. Here is your latte.” Davin hands her a paper cup with a delicately poured rosetta suspended in the cream.
Ambers jaw drops as she admires his work. “Oh my god, that is beautiful!” she exclaims.
“I guess you will be wanting a lid…” Davin feigns a morose pose as he covers up his art with a black plastic lid.
A sunny smile beams forward with the pretense of comfort. “Its ok. I know its there, that’s what matters!”
They exchange money. The girl wants to stay and chat but it will have to be some other time as she is only on a short break. Her smile, no longer feigned in jest is genuine and her caring nature shines in her eyes. Davin watches her walk away, her polished demeanor washing over the bustling masses to brighten the day.
Even as the echoes fade into the distance Davin realizes it was all just a dream. His son is with his mother, 45 minutes away. Still exhausted he shoves the empty beer can into his bag and heads to the trail that will take him home. Walking along he wonders who may have been around to witness his outburst. “Funny,” he thinks, “how in all this madness, in all the pain, anguish, guilt and fear, I can still find room to feel foolish.”