It’s seven a.m. and I’ve just awakened to the beautiful, slanted morning river light you get to experience if you don’t laze about in bed too long. Following the urge, I throw on some shorts and a t-shirt and try to slip out to the deck of our tiny floating house. The pup, with her uncanny hearing, follows me to the kitchen as I surreptitiously make a quiet cup of coffee. “Feed me first”, she says with such kind, pleading eyes, that I must comply. Finally able to escape, coffee cup in hand, I slide into the Adirondack chair and take it all in. The sun is still behind the house, casting a cool shade on the deck. There isn’t a single human soul on the river nor seemingly anyone up and about at the moorage. The rarest of moments, I think, and drink it in with every sip of my coffee. The birds of the river are at their most congenial and talkative in the early morning. They must deem it the safest time, with no scary humans about, to commune with their neighbors.  The barn swallow mates who built a nest under the eave take turns, one sitting on their eggs while the other chatters at me incessantly from its perch on the deck. I imagine they wonder why I’m here in their quiet little space. Eventually, they accept me and settle down.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the far shore comes alive with little beings that win their breakfast from the water. Two stately, prehistoric-looking Heron stand statue-like in knee-deep river, surprising the unwary fish that mistake their legs for sticks. A Kingfisher – about the size of a bluejay – belts out his raucous warrior song as he spots his meal from high up in the trees and dives headlong into the water like a kamikaze pilot, each time miraculously surviving the impact and, often enough, emerging with a prize. The high tree canopy releases a pair of Osprey, singing their distinctive plaintive song as they circle-circle-circle on the higher thermals. Finally, one heads straight downward (how many miles an hour must it be?) and plunges toward the water nearly doubled in half, its head between its legs, enabling perfect focus on its target. It hits the water with an explosive splash, feet first, and struggles to keep its prey who is fighting like heck to escape. The Osprey emerges from the water empty-taloned, having been bested by his breakfast choice. I’ve sat on this deck many hours and watched Osprey soar all day long. But only recently did I learn that the reason they generally dive for food in morning or evening is that the angle of the sun during midday creates a mirror sheen on the water’s surface. When the sun is lower in the sky, they can see fish more clearly and be more successful at food gathering.

 

 

 

The geese swim by with their brand-new babies following in line. They, too, seem to appreciate this quiet time. The geese always make me smile. The rhythm of their lives provides a rhythm to my life here at the river. There’s a hopefulness in early spring when they return in droves; a sense of wonderment when they bring their babies out from behind the reeds in late spring; a camaraderie as they swim up and down the river all summer, teaching their children to be geese; and, finally, a sense of sadness when they fly in huge formations overhead, looking for warmer climes in the fall, honking their directions to each other so no one gets lost. I always imagine them instructing the young ones: “Look down. Remember this place. You’ll be back next year.”

 

 

 

 

And so many of us do come back to this quiet, verdant place, looking for peace and perspective. This year perhaps more than others. Today is Memorial Day, the first following a year and a half of a pandemic, of a time like no other, when it was so difficult to find and keep joy. When news of death wore us down and taking solace in the company of friends and family was denied us. Today, as the morning wears on, the river starts to slowly come alive with human beings. First a lone rower. Then a kayaker, waving a shy little wave. Then the occasional quiet fishing boat, its occupants intent on their mission. Then serene little motorboats, just skimming the surface. This goes on for several hours and I revel in the quiet way the human world is revealing itself. No boisterous wake boats with music booming from loudspeakers. No yachts forgetting how their gigantic wakes rock our tiny houses and strain our mooring chains. It’s as though people are emerging from their pandemic cocoons quietly, carefully, like wary animals or early-morning birds testing out the environment. Is it safe?  Is it good?  Will we be okay?  Will something capture us in its talons?

 

 

 

 

I’ve lived long enough not to expect that this human innocence will last. The noisy and thoughtless will begin to show their faces and dominate the environment once again. But, luckily, they tend to be late risers. So, on this Memorial Day and for the days to come, I’ll remember this sadness-laden year and try harder to rise early so the natural world can teach me a thing or two about perspective. And every time I am given this gift, I’ll be a little more fortified for the next challenge, for the next time I feel hope ebbing. My energetic swallow friends will be back and, against my deepest despair, will remind me of the constant renewal the river gives us all, conflicted humans and trusting creatures alike.