Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Music is for the Birds

It was a splendid summer morning and it seemed as if nothing could go wrong. ~ John Cheever

For the first time in weeks, the river didn't refuse me.

While the walk to the river on a sunny day can be a hot one, the reward is always the sound of rushing water and cooler breezes once I hit Brown's Island.

When I got there, I spotted a guy just ahead of me with a backpack and guitar slung over his shoulder, not that unusual because I've seen a guitarist standing on the rocks of Belle Isle playing and a bagpiper standing on Brown's Island playing to the heavens on past walks.

Music and the river are best friends and that's not even counting the soothing sounds of the water itself.

But this guy seemed a bit tentative so I wasn't surprised when he approached a woman with a badge to ask her something. She pointed exactly where I was going, to the trail that leads down to the pipeline walkway.

The past four times I've gone down to walk the pipeline, the water has been over it, meaning it's off limits for safety reasons.

I had my fingers crossed as I made my way down the rocky and sandy slope that leads under the train tracks. No one else was around.

When I made it to the end of the trail, I was rewarded with a fully accessible pipeline, its upper part dry and perfectly safe to traverse. Hallelujah!

It's not just the balancing act of walking the pipeline - parts of it have deep divots that prevent a flat foothold - but the different kinds of water you move through that make it such a satisfying walk.

In places, it's fierce and rushing, noisy and powerful and then a few yard forward and it's so still it could be a mosquito breeding ground. Passing a rapid, the sound is all-encompassing and it's hard not to marvel at how kayakers maneuver over such a precipice.

I could see that the trees of the heron rookery had leafed out completely since I'd last been down this far, so I could no longer spot nests or the birds in them.

Once I got off the pipeline proper and on to the walkway, I saw a couple of guys down on a rock fishing, their tackle boxes wide open with the tools of the trade.

Just beyond them on the little sandy beach were two stages of a woman's life: stretched out on beach towels in bikinis were two college-aged women sunning themselves and staring at their cell phones.

Nearby were two young mothers, one with a toddler and one with a baby, constantly moving around following their children. The difference in age between the sunning women and the moms couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years, but talk about worlds apart.

I got on the other side of a pillar and slipped down off the walkway to the beach myself only to find the rock I usually sit on was 3/4 submerged, so I made do with another one further back. Clearly even though the pipeline was now usable, the water is still higher than usual.

On my way back toward the island, I came around a root-covered path and there was the guitarist sitting on a crooked tree branch right at the river's edge, playing to the mighty James, his back to me.

I paused and tried to listen but the river dominated, so I just stood there admiring the same view he had.

That's when I spotted a heron standing on a grassy area out in the river staring intently at the guitarist. After walking just a little further on, I returned to the river's edge and looked back toward the guitarist and there was the heron, now even closer to the music, completely focused.

Who would have thought?

I left the two of them to their time together and started the climb up to Brown's Island, spotting a mangled, green kayak under a railroad bridge, so unnaturally twisted that I had to hope no one had been in it when it assumed that shape.

Coming back up 2nd Street, I saw one of the surest signs of summer, sweaty road construction guys taking a break in the shade to smoke and watch girls walk by. When they smiled at me, I smiled right back.

Just another splendid summer morning in River City.

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