The river comes around from the southeast to the east at this point: a clean shift of direction, water deep and fast on the outside of the curve, flowing slower over the lip of a broad gravel bar on the inside, continuing into a field of shattered boulders to the west.
I kneel and slip my hands like eels beneath the surface of the water. I feel the wearing away of the outer ridge, the exposure of roots, the undermining. I imagine eyes in the tips of my fingers, like the eye-stalks of crawdads. Fish stare at my hands, conscious of the trespass. the thought that I might be observed disturbs me.
I've wanted to take the measure of this turn in the river, grasp it, for my own reasons. I feel closer to it now. I know which deer drink at which spots on this bank. I know of the small screech owl nesting opposite. I am familiar with the raccoon and fisher whose tracks appear here, can even tell them apart by their prints. One memorable morning I saw the track of a grizzly fresh in the sand as I waded past.
The attempt to wrestle meaning from this spot began poorly, with illness. A pain, slow in coming like so many that seemed in my back, then in my chest. An ache, yearning, as strong as the wish to be loved, a pain along my self. As the weeks went on I moved about less and less, until finally I merely sat home, the recliner tilted back.
I began to think (as on a staircase descending to an unsure level within myself) about the turns in the river, and how they pertained to me, to my life. If I could understand the turns in the river, I could imitate it, I reasoned. Understand it, I could understand my life, what it has meant.
Thus became a search, doomed to failure.
I finally reduced the bend in the river, and my life, to an elegant, verbal equation. This happened at night, and I let it sink in, then got up and went to bed. I knew I didn't have the strength then to realize them, but I felt the worst, the uncertainty, was past.
I woke during the night to sounds of birds, the few that live in early summer in Montana. They told me much, my mistakes, things I can't speak of here. They departed, leaving the odor of bruised grass and cracked bone in the air. I knew my understanding was incorrect.
I have lost, as I might have inferred, some sense of myself. I no longer require as much. And though I am not hopeful of recovery in a final sense, an adjustment as smooth as the way the river lies against the earth at this point, this is no longer the issue with me. I am more interested in this: from above, to a hawk, the bend must appear only natural and I for the moment a part. A greater whole we are all part of. It seems we all, me and them, are one. This has somewhat dismantled my loneliness, and my fear of the end.
Like the river, I'll flow out to sea, become part of the greater world around us. This idea gives me comfort.
I will tell you something. It is to the thought of the river's banks that I most frequently return, their wordless emergence at a headwaters, the control they urge on the direction of the river, mile after mile, and their disappearance here on the beach as the river enters the ocean. It occurs to me that at the very end the river is suddenly abandoned, that just before it's finished the edges disappear completely, that in this moment a whole life is revealed. The banks of my river, my life, have been my family, my friends. The fact that someday I must leave them, and they must release me is not a cause of dismay. Like the river, we all must join the sea someday.