Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Out back

Not all winter days are created equal. Some--like yesterday--are sweeter than they should be, warmer, more radiant, more beautiful than one's late November expectations.  An environmentalist friend of mine wants me to believe that all days are God's days, holy days--and they are. But twenty-below doesn't sprout piety easily.

So yesterday, late afternoon, I took a walk out back along the river. Even when the temps are accommodating, the river in early November is quite nondescript--leaves shorn, greens gone, weeds skeletally yellow. There's little color to behold, and the sun, half hidden by haze and ranging far to the south, creates shadows but only reluctantly. Why beat around the bush?--there's nothing knock-out gorgeous about the Sioux County's Floyd River in late November, even if sweet weather beckons; right now, we're simply in a drab and mostly colorless world.

Which doesn't make for calendar-class photography. I mean, the Missouri has its own gorgeous valley, and people around LaCrosse, Wisconsin, actually call their world "God's country," a title that's pretty hard not to concede when you cross the Mississippi. But we're talking Floyd River here. A month ago, I could have walked across and not wet a knee. It's shallow and thin and so lazy a good wind reverses it's flow.  It's not a stunner.

I found a couple of milkweed pods, just about the only sign of life. Something about its seeds begs wonder and delight. Nothing in the neighborhood seems  so elegant, so abstract, so extravagantly out of place. 

Otherwise there was nothing particularly beautiful about the river yesterday.  I met a few of its citizens, sort of.  I kicked up five pheasants--two roosters and three hens--and just down the bend behind our house I found a bundle of saplings chewed off, the neighborhood beavers busy at what beavers do. 

But out back it was, save the temps, pretty much of an ordinary afternoon, very little going on. Nothing outlandish or memorable or even particularly photogenic. Nothing Grand Canyon-ish, you know?

So I got to thinking that this little drab river in the middle of all this rich and now seasonally shorn Iowa farmland really isn't much to write home about. But then, the river doesn't really care if I run it down, if I ridicule it, if I claim its natural beauty is third-rate this time of year or any. The Floyd River didn't primp a bit when it saw me coming yesterday.  It doesn't really need me. Life is good without that old bald guy with the little camera, scaring the pheasants and the beaver and the deer. The Floyd doesn't aspire to a calendar.

Yesterday, on the banks of the Floyd, just outside of Alton, IA, I didn't count for much really.  The river didn't need me one bit, but I do think we need it, or at least I do.  I need its grace. I need its charm, even when it's drab.  Even though it's not conscious in the least of owning such attributes or giving them up and ultimately couldn't care less about me snapping shots with a palm-sized camera, I need what it allows me to find on its banks.  I need its beauty. 

An old friend from the Wisconsin lakeshore once told me he couldn't live out here in Siouxland because there were no places to hide on land so flat and bare. I've lived here forty years, but I understood what he meant to say.  Maybe I found a little of what he didn't think was here yesterday, just out back, along the river.  I won't speak for others, but some of us need to get a little tipsy with an occasional shot or two of the wild, even its only on the banks of a lazy river in colorless late November.

There's always beauty out back, but sometimes, even on a warm afternoon, you have to look to find it and work to keep it. At least that's what I took home on an early winter's afternoon just outside my door.

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