I often escape to the canyon for a mountain bike ride or to the Jordan River with a kayak. Both have their attractions. But when I want to be slow and quiet, to see wildlife, and to forget my troubles, there is nothing like a long paddle on the river. Turtles sunning on logs. Mallards flying upstream. Great blue herons and belted kingfishers. And signs of beaver chew. This humble river runs the length of the great Salt Lake Valley, home to 1.2 million people. The river runs mostly unseen and ignored right up the middle of the valley. I am grateful for decades of visionaries who have seen to the river’s cleanup and restoration for people to kayak and canoe, fish, and cycle and walk and run on the riverside trails. I can’t wait for my next glide on the river. In the meantime, this poem distills some of my observations and impressions.
Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely
Paddling is as much pushing as it is pulling, a balance of both with each stroke, to spread the strain and stretch my strength to keep on.
The moment my kayak slips into the dark smooth water I feel free from sticky attachments and my fears float off with clouds of elm seeds.
Today I learn that when a Canada goose flies its elongated neck slightly dips and tremors with each wing beat.
Why would so many hundreds of swallows, swarming around me, glue their mud-daub domiciles under the lip of the rumbling interstate?
I feel a surge of joy just knowing that these new gnawings on elm trunks and new nippings of willow shoots mean that beaver again work the river.
A hen quacks increasing irritation as I keep arriving and she keeps needing to fly off. Her drake makes no protest, and I ask if he is lazy, or unconcerned, or thinks his partner makes sufficient complaint for them both.
My peace is disturbed by the screams of two-cycle engines racing on dirt tracks and spinning up dust: I pick up my paddling pace.
A snipe calls a chiding chirrup as she flushes then flutters on short wings, her beak longer than half her round body.
Squat socks knitted from gray grasses hang by the dozen on the ends of elm boughs: oriole nests: empty and sagging and looking forlorn.
I float close enough to a wide flat turtle sunning on a log to see scarlet stripes on his face and we stare carefully at one other until he slowly slides off and I swear I can hear him sighing, yet another human has interrupted my nap.
Women speed by on the riverside trail and some wave and call out a hello, and I wonder if a man gliding alone on a glassy green river seems romantic.
Young perfume from budding olives embraces me gently with intimate arms, and I know this is where I want to be.
Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart. The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.