A lazy river staying predictably within its deep banks as it works its way through an agricultural valley. A few farm towns made of bricks in the nineteenth century stacked up like children’s play blocks only a few yards from the edge of the running water. A stoplight in the middle of the town, at the prominent intersection where a north-south and an east-west fare come together to define the center. A stone schoolhouse three stories tall if I count the basement. A bridge goes over the river at one end of town and the road passes into the open fields that run for miles until they come to the next little town on the river.
When I close my eyes and see this river, I detect other rivers that run not through the rural Washington landscape of my youth, but rather swing this way and that as they pass through me. At times the currents are swift and mostly dangerous with impossible challenges that I have been forced to face. Then come waterways that appear wide and gentle, with big white soft birds skimming the surface, giving off an elegance that holds my eyesight.
I feel like several rivers that pass through me never really started close by me, just entered me and never left, and have enough circuitous activity that they will never become stagnant ponds. I would give names to those rivers still working inside of me, like that first one I became familiar with, the Yakima, when still a child. These rivers have become less defined as they move forward in time, sometimes overspilling a bank and upsetting my calm, while often they seem to nearly dry up so that all I really see is a few rocks in a trickling stream bed.
Sometimes the Yakima the way I remember it when young also runs a metaphorical length along with the other rivers inside of me, as if the rivers spill into each other at various intersections. The waters and the fish in them join to form a new flow and run for long distances, until they run completely from my sight.
I would name one of the rivers mother and another father. They still run their full length and current inside of me, but upon the death of my parents, the rivers no longer run outside of me. Other tinier rivers have adopted the same habit as the more grand rivers. Oh yes, and the grandparent rivers still run, but only within, no longer outside. This week I learn that one of my cousins with whom I grew up on the Yakima, a flow I’ve known all my life, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.