(With enough edits to get smoke coming out of the computer screen, here is my little effort for #BlogBattle Stories: Dusk – for March.)
River Magic at Dusk
Wisps of white clouds contrast with the stark blue sky and the air holds motionless between intervals of light breezes occasionally rippling the water. The kayak moves steadily, gaily reflecting my mood, as the long paddle flashes brightly in a slanting winter sun, reminding me that dusk is approaching. It comes in fast on the river.
From the relative safety of perches high in denuded cottonwoods, eagles eye my passage with interest, occasionally uttering their peculiar shrill giggles at my efforts against an intensifying current as I prepare to “jump” into the main river, its stream tumbling and churning in the shallow tributary I am following. Along a bank, willow twigs merrily bob up and down in the current and I am awed by the bright red-green brilliance of a branch of red osier dogwood below the surface of the water where the slanting light of the sun hits it. At that point the water gives out to force a short portage. Picking the light craft with one hand I cross to the next channel and look around before dropping in the water again.
About an eighth of a mile upstream I notice a human-like silhouette. It has the appearance of an old fisherman standing on the open gravelly bank, hunched over, staring at the water. That isn’t a fisherman, I tell myself: no boat, no line, no movement. The bulk, height, broad shoulders, cocked head and long limbs rising out of the rounded stones tell me this is a Watcher.
A Watcher, you may question? Yes, indeed! Watchers still stand guard along shores, on edges of alpine meadows, in deep gorges and in burnt-out woods I am sure you’ve seen them though you may have other names for them. They appear more often in the moonlight, of course. I cannot claim to fully understand their purpose but they never seem to intend harm. After all to the Watcher a passer-by is but another life form.
Well, I thought, since I must continue that way, why fear this apparition? I intend no harm either. In some ways, I am much like a Watcher though my humanity would prevent me from being as dispassionately non-judgmental and patient.
I walk across the wide gravel bar and re-enter the water for another stretch of paddling, keeping a wary eye on my friend. In a moment of inattention on my part he has changed and I’m staring at a gargoyle, much more frightening than the original Watcher as the sun keeps throwing longer shadows over gravel and water.
Did I just witness a transformation? I think I forget to mention that Watchers can also shape-shift and do so regularly? How could I ignore such a well-known fact! I can plainly see the grotesque features silhouetted against the dusky daylight; the head thrust forward, winged shoulders pushed up and out as if readying for flight. It’s staring into the stream I am in, as if intending to challenge my passage here. Do I continue or turn tail and paddle downstream to the safety of the larger body of water? What if when my back is turned it comes at me on those broad, dangerous looking wings? I can distinctly make out that beak arching down menacingly.
I don’t have the energy to turn back and I reason that gargoyles are not generally known to attack people in daylight, or at dusk and they are not usually found on river banks, are they? I take a deep breath and resume paddling. Something along the shore on my left jumps up, startling me. It’s a ruffed grouse running towards the cover of the brush. I return my gaze to the gargoyle but in its stead stands a placid, medium-sized dinosaur head thrust forward and at right angle to the body, small beady eyes scanning the area. Though not as intimidating as the gargoyle, it inspires less confidence than the original shape of the Watcher. Is it flesh or plant eating? I don’t know much about dinosaurs; all I can tell is, it’s no Tyrannosaurus, small comfort! It occurs to me that if this creature, whatever it is, keeps changing form like that, perhaps it’s perfectly safe to go right on past. By the time I reach it, might it not change into something more in keeping with the natural fauna, like, say, a bear, coyote, seal or even a great blue heron? Best to proceed and watch for developments; time is of the essence now as darkness approaches.
Once that decision made, it affords a sense of aloofness, of distance from the actual drama, a fleeting moment of safety and even well-being. In the midst of danger, real or imagined, how often has such a feeling brought one’s situation into sharper focus? I struggle against the current, muscles tensing, feeling the blades scrape the shallow bottom, pushing gravel under the water, inching my progress against the passing bank. I make it to deeper water and the current slacks off allowing me to push on with more confidence.
Time to look once more at the creature and there it is, the trunk of a great tree that had floated many miles downstream in the last storm to get embedded in the gravel, its shattered main root sticking up like a large, shaggy head.
I approach this woody chameleon to look into its “face” and I swear it winks at me. I’ve just been regally entertained by nature’s river dusk magic.