A couple of weekends ago we needed to get out and test a boat. Almost November, our chances were dwindling. We put the word out, but everyone was hunting, or recovering from knee surgery, or on to another season. So we went, the two of us and Beans. Nothing heroic, just popped over the pass to the Yellowstone, put in on the edge of Livingston, paddled 40-some miles down to Big Timber.
You know the scene. Driftwood fires, hot drinks held close, geese overhead through the nights, deer taking refuge on the islands, ice in the jug at dawn, the cottonwoods browning and brittle. Not dawdling, really, but not pushing either. The pace of the river, the short days, the lining up of our strokes. Strolling around on gravel bars, heads down, looking for agate. That.
But then, on the second night, camped on the inside of a gravel bar along a narrow side channel, evening coming on, Marypat stoking the fire, I wandered down to the edge of the flow with a pot to fill. I stood there in the wet sand. The current swung into the narrows at the tip of the island, funneled down to a deep, green ribbon. On the far side water chattered over a shallow gravel bar, joining the flow. And how the river was, there, with the small roar of water dropping into the main flow, and the line of current curving and bending, the sense of joining and going on, and how I pictured our boat being carried along by that thin power, the small joy of it. Jesus, it made me salivate. That sliver of beauty with me standing nearby.
And now, weeks later, that’s what stays clear. That one moment, on the way for water, when the slick of river ran pure and heedless in front of me, and knowing that it is still running there, while the ice starts to form and the days shorten toward winter and the eagles shift in the snags, thinking of food.