Water

 

“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.” –  Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

Illuminating the enraptured notion that I am, as we all are, but a tiny speck of consciousness in an incredibly expanding, immense and almost eternal universe, 190 billion light years across, was never more prophetically enlightening then when I first saw the majesty that is Victoria Falls. I met her in 1974 where she straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa.

Since the whole of black ruled Africa was then officially in a state of war with apartheid Zimbabwe, named Rhodesia then, and I’d promised myself despite that sanction that I would not travel over 8,000 miles and be denied a Visa into Zambia, which I was, it left me little choice. Enlisting the talents of my native pals fearless guidance; we snuck across the border.

This was no small foolish feat since newspapers, that I read from the safety and privilege of the youth hostel in the capital city of Harare, then Salisbury, in recent days had reported that two young American female hikers had been shot and killed by Zambian border guards as they camped peacefully on the Rhodesian side.

I had by all measure a serviceable view of the Falls from the Rhodesian side; but for reasons, ganja enhanced, that escape me now, the world wonder twice as high and ½ again as wide as Niagara Falls, over which the volume of the Zambezi River crashes, forming the largest sheet of falling water in the world, beckoned with a demand to attempt an adventure in her honor as great as she.

At the peak of the rainy season, almost 300,000 gallons of water cascade over these majestic Falls every second. The  treacherous rapids, deadly crocodile, aggressive Hippopotamuses and Zambezi shark (bull shark) infested waters were so dangerous that although the Shona people first arrived in 1100, it wasn’t until the Ngoni, fleeing the wrath of Chaka Zulu, made the first successful crossing during the solar eclipse of November 19, 1835.

That fact was not lost on me while being goaded with chants to show some Yankee balls by crossing in rubber dingy over the mighty Zambezi by my adventurous and law-abiding adverse local companions, and I was just sober enough to remember another fact as well, that this river throughout history was considered so un-crossable that humans on either side evolved differently in language and custom. So with prayers for divine intervention and a brave exterior in service of the pride of my country, and hoping not to join my African brothers in a watery eternity; although catatonic in an inner fight or flee panic; I took the bait.

Where my fascination with water started I no longer remember; had it been my near drowning in the notoriously dangerous Lake Michigan when I lived in its shadow, or the harbor seal with a head the size of a basketball that scared me into sinking flight as it popped its head not three feet from mine at Stinson Beach on a balmy California summers day where I’d decided to go skinny dipping with my courageous friend Big Pauly; who to this day seems fearful of nothing.

Perhaps it was the nonstop 21 day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in winter in a tiny dilapidated and outdated 21 passenger Greek tramp steamer from New York harbor to Cape Town, where I nearly slipped, in a LSD altered haze, into the dark depths, or maybe it was the cocaine trickery of invincibility that found me snagged in a riptide off the coast of Miami; or maybe finally it was those mad moments bobbing hysterically on the Zambezi which set the hook.

Perhaps it has, as most things do, nothing to do with me particularly. It might spring from the same nature as our collective fascination with fire; the way men compete to be the one to build the camp fire and the way we all stare at it in fascination, germinates from the fact that were it not for this monumental discovery no Homo sapiens would have evolved or existed. Since we could also not exist without water for very long and are all made up of at least 60% of it; it is us and we are it.

Today, nine months into my move from metropolitan Oakland, with its diverse population of 400,000 and nearly every vantage point above a few feet from grade close enough to see the green apple Pacific ocean, to rural Spooner Wisconsin with a homogenous population of 2,682 where I sit tonight spitting distance from where I tickle my Typer on a heroes journey not 25 feet from the shores of Dunn lake, one of nearly 1,000 lakes in a county of just 15,000 people; one lake for every 15 people; my connection to water is now permanent and irrevocable.

In the half-light of this wholesome and flawlessly enchanting evening, gazing upon the always present placid golden pond; the same lake where fifty years ago I swan and boated and fished, I contemplate the difference between its blessing and those other bodies of water I once touched and in my wild moments communing with them nearly visited their eternal nadir.

This brilliantly lit morning brought the boatmen with their women and their children who donned life vests to traverse her voluptuous expanses on pontoon pleasure boats, floating decks 10-0 x 20-0 with outboard motors and canopies and barbeques and fishing rods in a floating revelry that caused endless mathematically perfect concentric ripples on a common axis; making the Loon’s scream a symphony in what appeared a behemoth bathtub about to overflow.

These lake locked mariners flopped like skin on the surface of her undulating body with their sun scrunched eyes seeing nothing but horizon, where fish came to nibble, where water and land and sky kiss each other like lovers; where all were one in god’s mirror underneath the sky, and I, now separated from risky adventures by age and wisdom, became as ever, this spring evenings guest; a grateful spectator.

Sundae

English: Black bear

English: Black bear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Awake on another Golden Pond Sunday; the Library, my newest discovery, and the Coffee House are closed; but the gym is open 24/7 so I set my sights toward that outcome. The ice on the lake and the snow on the land begin to yield to the second 70 degree beautiful day in seven months; I down my Cream-O-Wheat with raisins and butter and honey and a cinnamon bagel drenched in cream cheese, almond butter and organic blueberry preserves, gulp my giant homemade cappuccino and down a ice-cold glass of well water in the only surviving beer glass from my grandfathers bar in Little Italy; it’s a good 100 years old and must hold 24 ounces; the iconic beer glass that used to sell back then, full of beer, for 5 cents.

 

The birds and the bees and the squirrels and the trees are bursting spring as I drive along the deserted country road towards town thinking what the weightlifters at the gym were commiserating about yesterday; worried that the swarms of deer that have come a strolling are dangerous; warning that they’ll run right into the side of your car at high speed, or if you hit one head on, come crashing through your windshield and crush you flat as a pancake. But just now, on this early daybreak, I daydream a romanticized narrative for the poetic vision of the smoke billowing from the country home chimneys as it ties the roofs to the dark violet sky in an unbroken symmetry like connective tissue; a little slice of Norman Rockwell paradise.

 

Just then a wild turkey or grouse, some huge bird, slams right into my driver’s side window; six inches from my face. BAM; like a shotgun blast; it bounces off and splits to the side of the dusty road. I stop and  get out to check the damage to the winged kamikaze as the stunned bird runs away looking like the Roadrunner of cartoon fame; Beep, Beep!

 

On a whim I ventured a little farther into the wilderness and just keep going; wanting to let the local wild menagerie know I’m here to stay and friendly. As I make my way into their world I think had my window been open the collision might have snapped my neck like a toothpick; lucky again. Damn near turned me into carrion for coyotes, and later; food for worms.

 

Ten minutes in I stop and lean motionless against an Evergreen watching a white-tailed Hawk soaring a mile above me, surveying  for mice and whatnot he glides effortlessly. He hasn’t seen me yet, until I move a bit and instantly he maneuvers stealthy and evasive; Hawk-eyes. There, off to my left, not 25 yards ahead, emerges from their unseen den, four American black bear cubs, each the size of a loaf of bread and no more than five pounds apiece; they are all of ten weeks old. I freeze and take it in.

 

Some might feel the desire to approach at this point but the story I heard about the video of a guy on Safari in Africa getting out of the Land Rover to try to pet a Lion that then went right for his crotch and ate him whole without a burp zips past  my minds-eye. It takes all my courage not to retreat. I know somewhere very close is a big version of these babies. Mom must be resting after a long winter; conserving her strength. Now in the silence I hear a low grunting; it sends them scurrying back to the hidden den.

 

I was still buzzing from that encounter the next day when getting the mail out by the main road, my neighbor stops in his pickup truck to ask me if I knew when the snowstorm delayed garbage pickup was rescheduled for; said he didn’t want to put it out early because he has seen a bear roaming his property; (just down the road from mine). “He’s a big sucker” he said; “half the size of your car, with a head this big” he said as he created a circle with both arms that looked to be the size of two basketballs.

 

I’m fond of saying I would prefer a death match with a bear to meeting an ignominious end and I would; while I harbor the thought that wrestling with a carnivore farther up the food chain than myself might one day be a glorious romantic finale; my inner logical voice whispers, not today.