Middle Age 1: Shoveling Waters

It isn’t a shovel, it’s an entrenching system and I really needed
A quarter century ago, when I was an usher at a movie
theater, I saw “A River Runs Through It.” Based on autobiographical stories by
Norman MacLean, the film ends with the author as an old man fly-fishing in a
river and thinking over his life, the people he has loved, and their places in
the great river of time. The film ends with him intoning, “I am haunted by
I was haunted by the soundtrack and every day since I first
heard it I have been humming it to myself. Just a few weeks ago it finally
occurred to me to buy it.
What does this have to do with buying a portable shovel? I
mean entrenching system?
I will turn forty-seven years old in a few months. By no
means is my life over, there is a lot still to come. Some wonderful things. But
outside of rarefied roles like Supreme Court Justice or Pope, I am not young
If life is a sort of vacation from something else – and
sometimes I believe it is – I don’t need to start packing yet. But if there is
something I really want to do before heading home, I should probably get to it
sooner rather than later.
We live for possibilities and I still have many. But there
are also limitations. There are so many things that I know will not happen now.
There just won’t be time or I don’t really have the drive or talent. This is a
hard thing to know, but in time the bigger things become smaller and the
smaller things become bigger.
I’m not the old man at the end of the movie yet, but he is
not some distant relative. I greet him as a friend. So I bought a shovel – I
mean an entrenching system.
I am not one to take up fly-fishing in a beautiful Montana
canyon. But I live close to a creek. An ancient one that, in the winter when
the trees are bare and you look, you can see the sinews of the land and how
over time this little trickle of water has gouged the earth.
After a heavy rain this little creek runs hard and deep, show
its great power – moving swiftly enough that it is plain even to us with our
lives of mere decades.
After one storm, I saw a spot where the water crashed over
rocks clogged with leaves. I watched for a long while as the water pressed
forward, colliding, forming eddies. I could have watched forever.
But instead, with a stick I began clearing the debris. And
it brought me such a simple joy to ease the way of the waters.
As days went by, I returned and I found more and more places
where I could unblock the water. But I needed tools. Sometimes there were small
shoals where water gathered and sat, stagnant.
So I bought a little shovel, rather an entrenching system
and I headed to

the stream.

My wife observed that there is no shortage of chores around
the house. A yard to clear, gutters to clean. She’s right of course. My work
clearing the stream has no purpose. The waters have been going where they are
supposed to go since the earth formed and will do so until it is no more. My
small efforts amount to nothing.
But whenever I have a few moments, I take my shovel, I mean
my entrenching system and go to the creek. My headphones stream the soundtrack
to “A River Runs Through It,” though sometimes I take them off to hear the
waters murmur. And for a little while I touch something so much greater than
myself and my tiny cares.

I am haunted by waters.

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