Exhausted from a harrowing run down the cataracts, I sought respite in the deep sleep of the woe-worn, thankful for this broad and smooth, if swift, stretch of the river.
I woke to the sound of voices. Concern and caring from the close and the newly acquainted, inquiring as to need for rescue.
I have awakened in the levee.
Sound and dry, I look to the sun and stars to determine my location. To determine how far I am along the river. Or perhaps I turn to these immortal and perpetual landmarks in space to recalibrate my sense of direction. A ponderous irony, these distant celestial objects make me feel grounded, secure. They triangulate my position on this tiny Earth with pinpoint accuracy. These life-long and eternal companions usher me along my journey, unaffected by tide or time.
Back here on Earth, however, there is some commotion ashore, and I am compelled to investigate. It is a band of those tireless workers. The nameless faces and friends joined in the communal act of shoring the levee.
A view abaft reveals the great length of river behind me, crashing in the slowest-motion imaginable, into the sharp bend. Volume and inertia and guileless will to have its way conspire against those man-made earthworks, and the water line rises with frightening rapidity. A man that reminds me of my Grampa Pete, whom I never got to know, calls out through a bright, toothy smile, sensing my anxiety at the loss of my bearings, and sudden immersion in the present circumstance.
“Don’t you worry about that levee.” his voice was deep and bellowed forth from a barrel chest hanging from broad shoulders, topped with a head dusted with the thinnest layer of white hair. “It’ll hold. I guarantee it.”
He looked over my shoulder upriver and went on, as if I had ambled along, inviting idle conversation.
“Lot of storms recently, that’s why it looks like a flood coming. Don’t you fret. They were not the first, and they won’t be the last. But from here you have one long stretch, and then you’re in the delta.” He returned his attention to this wayward but familiar wanderer, and looked me in the eye as he finished, “That’ll carry you to the sea.”
The tone of his baritone voice, the certainty ringing in his statements, and that sunny smile washed over me like a tonic, wrapped around my shoulders like an arm, and left me with a renewed sense of surety and harmony with this place and time.
Without another word he turned and strode down the embankment. The human hodgepodge of crew could be seen to be making routine repairs. It seemed the gathering and fellowship, laughter, and a sort of lingering were as much a goal of the operation as any physical productivity. As if they were selected as an ad hoc committee representing humankind. Front-line, first-person perspectives with feet on the ground and eyes on the road. Purposed to feel, on behalf of us all, the confidence in the levee, born of the many generations that have stood such watch, as it were, through fair weather and foul. They buoyed my spirit, and I was chagrinned to leave them behind.
Their voices filled the air like song. The smell of peony and phlox wafted like perfumes, and my ever-present friends the sparrows darted about as I rounded the turn and beheld the great flat of the river. It is massive, in an overwhelming, humbling, shoulder-shaking reality-check way.
Immense and unimaginable forces moving at a speed incomprehensible for something so gargantuan. I float idyllically on the surface, as the kinetic energy is carried and dissipated over the broadening course.
How far along to the delta Grampa Pete didn’t say.
I reached for my compass, only to stop and realize it is a worthless bauble, merely a decoration, on a river.