Listening to the whispered wisdom of local waterways...
The older I get ... the deeper I think, the more I hone the ability just to sit quietly and listen … the more I begin to see that each of our lives is imbued with a certain symmetry.
If you look carefully, there are people, places and themes that recur from childhood through adolescence into adulthood.
This week, while walking along a little brook in White Mills, I realized that local waterways have always played a major role in my existence.
A Fish & Boat Commission officer once told me that there are as many as 10,000 bodies of water in Wayne County, from well-known lakes and rivers to countless unnamed ponds and creeks.
And so, this week I thought I'd take some time to consider the roles these waterways have played in my own life. I'm thinking that this may resonate with many of you...
Parkway Drive was a perfect place to grow up.
There were plenty of other kids and and countless things to do.
We played Wiffle Ball in the spring. In the summer we stayed out until long after dark chasing lightning bugs. In the fall there were epic Nerf Football games, while the winter brought snow forts and snowball fights galore.
The central point of this idyllic existence was the Dyberry Creek, which ran right through the middle of our childhood world.
We were either in it or on it nearly 12 months a year … from fishing, spearing eels or catching crayfish to skating and ice hockey.
As a teenager, I found a quiet spot on the riverbank to sit and think for hours at a time (as teens are wont to do!) brooding on the state of my love life or stewing about my latest imagined parental injustice.
Decades later, the Dyberry reasserted itself as a focal point of my life.
As a young Dad, it was in the bosom of this gently flowing creek that I taught my children to swim.
We would go on “river adventures” every summer, searching for those elusive crayfish, eels and mussels … echoes of my own childhood.
My earliest memory of the Lackawaxen dates to elementary school.
Back in “The Day,” the river flowed much more swiftly and deeply than it does now. Myriad flood control projects have since rendered it only a shadow of its former self … and that's a good thing.
However, when I was a lad, the Lackawaxen was a formidable entity that commanded respect. After all, just a cursory glance back at Honesdale history is enough to see what a terror it could be once released from its banks.
I remember walking with my family one day from Industrial Point up toward Main Street. We'd just reached the little park at the intersection. My brothers and I were playing on the stone monument when we were distracted by a commotion across the road.
It was summer and a small group of high school kids had gathered in the middle of the bridge. They were egging on one brave (or stupid) boy who'd clambered up onto the concrete railing.
The whole incredible scene lasted no more than 30 seconds, but the image is forever burned into my brain. The lad (and I have a pretty good idea who it was) blew a kiss to the crowd, turned around and leaped off the bridge into the swirling waters below.
We were stunned.
His “fans” leaned over the side to watch what must have been a spectacular cannonball. They cheered, then stampeded off the bridge and over to a path. There, they met their hero as he waded back ashore.
Was this courage or fool hardiness? My parents just shook their heads and warned us never to try such stupid stunts. Yet, I was left to wonder...
I left Wayne County during my collegiate years, but I was still attracted to whatever bodies of water I encountered.
As a seminary student at St. Pius X, I meditated and tried to pray at a beautiful little grove nestled on a small lake in Dalton.
While at Lock Haven, I walked alongside the mighty Susquehanna, stopping every now and then to skip rocks and dream about the future.
It was Welcome Lake, though, that played a pivotal role in my life. I was going through a divorce, working at a job I hated and desperately trying to find my way.
For a little more than two years, I lived in one of the last active boarding houses in all of NEPA. This charming, ramshackle edifice was owned by a wonderful old couple, Russ & Shirley Mott, and it looked out over the waters of Welcome Lake.
I spent countless hours in the summer reading on the Motts' dock; but, it was during the winter months that this ancient body of water began to reveal its secrets.
Have you ever lain on the ice in the middle of a lake on a frigid, cloudless night? It's an amazing experience.
From above, you are engulfed by millions of stars. You almost feel as though you could leap up and “swim” though the Milky Way.
From below you can feel the cracking and rumbling of the ice. The lake actually “talks” to you as water turns to ice and ice turns back to water.
It's a never ending process with a language all its own. And, if you stay still and listen, you begin to understand and soak in the age-old lessons of patience and perseverance.
I will close with the one body of water that actually haunts me to this very day.
There's an almost reverential silence hanging over Tanners Falls. The beauty of this spot is just undeniable … from the cascading waterfalls to the swirling pools, from ancient mill ruins to cool, shaded walking paths.
It's just a magical place that attracts folks from all over the region. Sadly, it's also the sight of a horrific Wayne County tragedy: the murder of Laura Ronning.
I've written about this case many times before, so I won't go into detail here. Suffice it to say, though, Laura's death has transformed Tanner's.
What was once just a scenic stopover … a place to sunbathe, snap a few selfies, maybe enjoy a picnic lunch … has now become a sad memorial tinged with the echoes of a heinous crime.
I return several times a year, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, co-workers or family members.
We tend to Laura's memorial, then head on over to the falls. We climb out onto the rocks … the very spot where she read her book and spent a last few, happy hours before darkness descended.
There, I bow my head and say a little prayer for Laura to remind her that she's not forgotten and maybe soothe her spirit just a little bit.
For some reason, Wayne County's waterways have always had a calming effect on my mind and soul.
Perhaps it's something in our DNA? The deeply-buried knowledge that we humans emerged from the water millions of years ago and that we're one day destined to return?
Perhaps it's something simpler and even a bit poetic … the fact that flowing water symbolizes the passage of time and parallels our own journey toward eternity.
I don't know. Thoughts like that are admittedly above my pay grade. But, I'll venture this:
Sitting quietly on the shore and listening to the water whisper its secrets is time well spent. It provides a brief respite from our sometimes chaotic world. It enables us to slow down, to connect with the natural world. It's a conduit through which flows a river of ancient wisdom.