Above the Confluence

© Matthew Word Bain

The confluence of the Maury with the James River features what kayakers call a “rock garden.” It’s a whole lot of whitewater in a small amount of space. I have navigated it by canoe once or twice, by inner tube more often, and I have also seen a kayaker capsize halfway through and travel the second half upside down without a helmet (while he emerged unharmed, somewhat miraculously, that was a startling way to begin a journey!).

The scene in this image is immediately above this rock garden. Standing in this spot the whitewater begins within twenty or thirty yards downstream to the right of the frame. It’s amazing how the character of a river can change over such a short distance, and how upstream of this change there is no indication whatsoever of that sudden shift.

Of course, we are looking upriver in this image. Traveling on the river one can see that a change is indeed imminent (although it can be difficult to see exactly what that change will consist of). Yet gazing at the tranquil reflection of this railroad bridge in the nearly smooth surface of the river belies the roiling current immediately downstream.

What a rich source of metaphor rivers offer. The river of time is one that shows up a lot, but also the river as the path one takes in life, with its rapids and its long slow flat stretches, and the way we can never see what’s around the next bend until we travel around it ourselves.

What riverine metaphors suggest themselves to you? What have you learned from rivers, either by being near them or actually being on them? Have you ever thought of a river as a teacher?