Words about time and the river

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By Doug Bell

Dear Sis:

OHIOPYLE, Pa. — You never shared my need to return to these rivers and creeks and hollows when wounded, this ancient place where water and stone wage their endless war.

I come here hoping the universe will once again make sense, yet leave each time with the comforting and appalling certainty that life is merely a series of accidents, and we are their lucky or unlucky victims.

Still, deep in this gorge I’ve always found shelter from the randomness that rages around us. Gravity guides the water to find weakness, and that tick-less clock without hands carved the paths we briefly walk. Even the ancient hemlocks here are temporary witnesses to the inexorable and timeless drama far below.

In Colorado, many of us mark the journey by the heights we scale, the fourteeners and the mesa tops and the high canyons. But here it is the water that moves us, carries us through the eddies and backwash to places that only the heart still knows.

The Youghiogheny, with its wild whitewater and rocky ramparts, taught the earliest inhabitants of this region to stare down their fears. The Monongahela, with its barges and coal towns and commerce, gave the immigrants who came here industry. And Muddy Creek, winding through the lush hills and welcoming woods, never once failed to guide us home.

We’ll be making that journey home together once more in the spring. On it, I’ll be thinking about all the authors and artists who inspired allusion in this column, from Fogelberg to Roddenberry, from Vonnegut to Twain.

Of the many lessons you taught me in our time together on the river, this will be the most enduring: Life’s ability to wound through its random and chaotic nature is thwarted only through the comfort of words and ideas elegantly expressed, and through the search for kindness and justice in a relentlessly unjust world.

My own search will be immeasurably difficult as I move downstream without you.

Doug Bell is the editor of Evergreen Newspapers, and his love of words was a gift from the late Leigh Anne Bell and Isaac Bell.