Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 16, 2017

Approaching the stream, it was apparent much had changed. Having not visited this particular water since a substantial flooding storm a few months earlier I hadn’t thought much on how much things may have been impacted. The stream bed had been altered considerably while the remains of the flood were scattered along the rocky but now dry floodplain. I stood taking it all in, feeling much like a speck of random paint on nature's easel. At first glance we are quick to view changing events such as this as if it is happening just to us, in “our” world as we know it; a world that whether we like it or not is ever changing. Where I stood was on a bend pool where the drainage widens through a sweeping plateau before gaining speed as it drops through the mountains on its way to the Susquehanna River. And though I felt a little bothered by the changes that had impacted a favorite pool of mine, my vantage point gave a new perspective on things. Where I stood was really nothing more than a gathering of stream bottom which had been deposited by the rushing current. Looking behind me the channel had cut a bank several yards into the woods giving the appearance of a high-water mark, yet if studied closer the forest floor was terraced, giving evidence that although it had not been under water heavily in recent years (due to the size and variety of the trees now standing) it had been sculpted by water in the past. The streams true high water mark was most of the drainage in front of and behind me. Regardless of the current path of the stream bed, the water flowing held the one true deed to the entire valley. We on the other hand are simply renting the portion of the valley it is currently not using.

Yet we tell ourselves we are in control, refusing to acknowledge the true permanent high water marks that have been painted in the past while focusing solely on the running waters of today; that narrow, winding stream bed. And in doing so, we struggle through life fighting against the forces of nature as we demand it go in the direction in which we want it to. Life has much the same impact, and learning to acknowledge each of personal high water marks is half the battle. They define you. I can no longer deny that I am a soldier, than I could deny my own parents. That is a high water mark that is permanent carved deep by many high and muddied waters. I no longer wear a uniform, but none-the-less, I remain a soldier. I am a child of the country, despite the fact that I have lived most of my adult life in an urban setting, that mark still remains. When push comes to shove, that stream bed will always meander back towards those mountains, yet many of the farthest reaching marks of all were carved by actual waters. Those times shared with family in my youth, friends over the years, children as they’ve grown and even in solitude for my own well-being. Those are the true high water marks that identify my stream bed, and no matter how hard I work to force life back into the current channel, water in fact holds the deed to a much larger portion of my existence than I do. You never beat nature. Not even your own. And quite often we find ourselves standing in the gathered rocks after the water subsides, looking at the debris left behind. But change doesn’t mean the stream is ruined. If you look close enough, there are still prime lies holding fish and a more often than not a good hatch in the tail out. It may not be the same one you have come to expect, but it will be there.

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