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The River Diaries

Thursday, July 6, 2000

The West Side banks of the river are empty today, back to normal after the departure of thousands of people who clung to the grass hills for the Fourth of July ship extravaganza. I was there too, perched on a steep hill, looking hard at the patch of river still visible between heads. In risking our lives to cross the highway to get to this higher elevation, I did get a brief view of a many-masted ship turning itself around in the river to head back downtown. Huge even in the distance, its sails like patches of history, it seemed ghost-like on the horizon.

This morning I walk the river alone, Perry still away for his week in the country with an old lover—one of mine, not his. The river’s voice is what reaches me first this day, its bubbling chuckles, rhythmic and incessant. I am walking with worry; I have another C.A.T. scan tomorrow, yesterday I stayed in bed for most of the day, and so I am glad to hear this other heartbeat. The air is cool, the wind pushing ripples against the rocks. A small sea bird dives like a loon farther from shore and closer in, a mallard mother tries to keep her two chicks alive in the bouncing currents. I worry about them, as they seem so buffeted by the playfulness of the wind upon the water. The mother hops up on a rock to get some respite and the little ones try to follow, rest for a minute and then get washed off. She could so easily fly off, but she does not. She tries to shepherd them as best she can, leaving her rock to join them in the currents. This is marvel enough for a morning.

Further on, I see a white rubber glove floating like a severed hand, the fingers splayed out, swollen with air. The river catches so much of the debris of our lives and floats it out of view. Every morning I see a thin highway of this refuse, close to the rocks. I can choose not to see it if I look out towards the Jersey shore, but it is in this thin band of debris that I find other stories. I hate the pollution of it; I want this river to be clean and free, but it lies too close to us. To our celebrations and to our angers, to our sexual moments and urban renewals. From all the way upstate to along the upper reaches of Manhattan to the widening expanse of the lower bay, it accompanies our lives and bears the marks of these encounters, but by the end of the day, the bits and pieces have washed down river and in the purple dusk of a summer night, the waters seem pure again.


© 2000 Joan Nestle

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