(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

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A Watcher on the River

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.

32 thoughts on “River Magic at Dusk (blog battle stories)

  1. Phil Huston

    Well, so much for my (as yet unposted) two. Next time you start smoking your computer send it to me. The next door to done draft, not the computer. This would, whacked to essentials, make a great kids’ story/book.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: #BlogBattle Stories: Dusk | BlogBattle

  3. rawgod

    Nice story, S’T. The eyes play tricks on a nervous mind, and kayaking or canoeing at dusk by oneself can certainly be a time of dangerous imaginings. But when you finally got close enough to see the uprooted tree, I was hoping to hear your sweet laughter of relief. When I didn’t I had to look back, to see why it did not come. It was the wink, wasn’t it?

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Yes, the ‘wink’ of a good joke played to the finish, but also a recognition of the spirit within the “creature” that was serious for me, like, ‘do not fear, you are never alone, we look after you,’ and they have, I know this of course. The stories I have of my many encounters as a kid returning home in the dark or under a moon with a small load of firewood or feed in the one-horse sleigh through snowy fields and woods, harness chains clicking, runners creaking over frozen snow, coyotes, snowy and great horned owls flitting through as shadows, hooting or yipping, me gripping the reins in one hand, the trusty old .22 in the other, never knowing for certain if there was danger or not, though I’m sure the horse would have let me know if there was anything threatening lurking about. I remember the long, dark, moonlit shadows cast by unburnt piles of roots or blackened stumps. I’d be dead tired but still I remember that edge of excitement, being alone in what was still essentially wilderness. If something happened to you out there it would only be the horse arriving at the barn and neighing that would mean an accident had happened. There were a few of those, not everybody is lucky but I always had my watchers… still do.

      Reply
  4. Sha'Tara Post author

    Indeed and I gave up long ago believing in the adage that ‘we create our own luck.’ There is much more than what meets the eye on this world.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you, Frank. The “emotions” I deny myself when dealing with people stuff I fully engage with nature since there is no judgment there. Then it’s a simple matter of writing out those emotions, really.

      Reply
  5. S.C. Jensen

    This is a wonderful piece! I can tell you’ve spent a day or two out on the water, haha. I love the way old logs can shape shift as we see them from different angles. I have always imagined gnomes and trolls and the like rather than gargoyles and dinosaurs, or scarier half-human type creatures lurking in wait. Your imagery is so evocative, I was really right there with you.

    If I were to offer some critique, I would suggest breaking some of your longer sentences into two shorter ones. Particularly in the opening paragraphs. Long sentences can be great for creating that meandering feel of the river. But you have so many great images here that I think they each deserve to shine. Right now, we don’t have time to digest one before another comes along!

    I really love the wink at the end, too. It really ties it all up nicely. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  6. Gary

    Dusk and a kayak, what could go wrong with seeing shapes morph in shadows as they lengthen and pray on the mind? Real or not real? Afraid or not afraid? I agree with the above re long sentences to create a more ebb and flow with the river. I often overuse short and long to create a sense of drift. Might just be the way I think though…wandering and disjointed lol. I suppose I ought to get mine done now too!

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting,Gary. I suppose we all have “excuses” for our grammatical lapses! Mine is I’m an ESL’er who flunked English 101! Also, my background is French, and you probably know, the French are long-winded in their literary expressions! From the time I began writing in English I’ve probably dropped at least 25% of my verbiage. I love English though, it’s such an expressive and to-the-point language when written/used properly.

      Reply
      1. Gary

        My excuses are usually presenting first drafts rather than spending time fine tuning. Not a good habit wrt short stories here, but I find time gobbles up things and going over material outside manuscripts is limited. It’s why I’m late doing my own prompt word (as in its one of my contributions to the years prompts lol). I’ve never considered English that way before either. Then again it’s my first language so probably haven’t had to! That said it’s a very rich vocabulary and that lends itself to story telling. Caveat… as you say, written well and used properly!

  7. Lisa R. Palmer

    Love this, Sha’Tara! I’m so there with you. I am always moved by the way you sucker me in, so I’m sitting right next to you throughout your narration. I felt every shift of light and mood, every gentle motion of the canoe… Another brilliant tale!

    Reply
  8. Hyperion

    Awesome experience shared Sha’ Tara. My favorite part of being in nature is the characters I run into formed by some natural process as if it were purposeful.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Maybe it is purposeful… and I personally like to think so. I’ve seen “inanimate objects” move and I have certainly heard voices among trees,mostly among willows. I was crossing through a willow clump along the River some years ago and a loud voice said to me, “You are Erin WilloWitch!” I have never forgotten that! So, ‘Erin Willowitch’ is one of my names now. I think it is a good one, what you would call a ‘power name!’

      Reply
      1. Hyperion

        I like the sound of Erin Willowitch. We have discovered that plant life and especially trees are not just sitting there sucking up water. They communicate with the insect world and each other and support one another when distressed. It is the lack of human intelligence that prevents us from connecting with them as well. But for those of us that have the sensitivity and desire to connect with nature, we can. We just need to realize that our human existence isn’t the model for sentient life and comparison as a standard is pointless.

      2. Hyperion

        Thank you Sha’Tara. It’s sorta my self alignment that allows me to see the significance of other living flora and fauna. Once I took myself out of the center of the universe, I began to relate better to my natural world and other people.

      3. Sha'Tara Post author

        2nd comment, and quote: “We just need to realize that our human existence isn’t the model for sentient life and comparison as a standard is pointless.”
        Wanted to be sure that if anyone is reading these comments they’d be reminded of your great line. (My first comment came from my cell phone and I still don’t know how to copy and paste on the Android system!)

      4. Hyperion

        It’s hard to do sometimes, but if we can quiet down our own internal noise we can use our senses to connect with our natural world. Even large stones have the ability to translate vibrations in the way the ocean does. This is the sound of our planet and we can hear and feel a small portion of that activity. It would be similar to hearing oneself breath or feeling a pulse. It’s a sign that soothes or warns us. You knew all that but it is comforting to express it with someone who gets it on a deep level. Oh that pesky cut and paste. Basically, press and hold your finger on the text until a small marker appears then drag it over the text you want which hilights what you have selected. Press and hold your finger on the selected text and a menu box will appear with the option to copy or cut the text. Select copy then go to any input screen of any app and press and hold your finger and the oaste option will appear. Select paste and you are done. Just be aware that the AI in the Android is a rascal named Loki and he will work hard to mess with you.

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