Monday, December 15, 2008

The River Road

The River Road

I grew up in a region with green forests, quiet valleys and rolling mountains. For a while I even lived on an island. Today I live in a populated suburban area located outside of Paris. At times I miss being close to Nature and feel a primitive longing for it. The closest substitute to Nature that I can find is the river road -- a narrow pedestrian road that runs along the river in my town. I can easily walk there from my apartment and I enjoy going there several times a week.

As I go down the public stairs, I avoid looking at the graffiti and the scattered litter. My destination is the river -- ever changing in appearance and waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. Sometimes the water is dark green and moves with a slow, hypnotic current. Other times the water is brown and turbulent from heavy rainfall. There's plenty to see on the river road and my favorite time of day is at twilight, just as the sun is setting. The sky is a blend of blue, purple and orange highlights and the sun briefly electrifies the surface of the river with a iridescent glow.

I share the road with others, who drift past at varying speeds. Sporty joggers speed past, staring straight ahead, their legs moving like pistons. An older woman walks past at a careful but energetic pace. Her face reflects a long life, well-lived. I imagine that she knows this road very well. She has seen the trees grow through countless seasons, their branches inching skyward and their roots twisting into the earth. She has seen children learn to ride a bike and then become transformed into teenagers who come in summer to self-consciously sit along the edge of the river, kissing or listening to music. When her eyes touch my face I can feel wisdom, humour and strength coming from her. I silently wish her well.

In the darkening sky, birds move quickly and hunt their nesting places for the night. They call to each other and move unseen in the trees. I often see small bats (chauvres-souris, literally bald mice!) wildly zigzagging above me. They live in the cracks of the walls along the road or under the old bridge. I like bats and seeing them reminds me of when I was a teenager. I would throw a small stone straight up in the air near pine trees, and if bats were nearby, they would quickly zoom up and circle the stone. Their amazing radar would track the stone and detect if it was something to eat or not. My intent was not to hurt the bats, only to play with them. I can still imagine the tall, dark trees and the keening sound of the bats as they danced in the air.

As I said earlier, I live far from forests now. My walks are limited to short strolls, sometimes interrupted by my portable phone or nagging responsibilities that call me back to my desk or home. But I still toss up small stones sometimes and eagerly watch the sky. If you walked along this road in the early evening, you might see a woman smiling and tossing stones up into the sky. Don't worry, it could be me, and I'm quite harmless. When the bats answer and swirl in quick circles above me, my heart sings and fills with a joyful laughter.