“Way down upon the S’wanee River, far far away…”
It is far away…830 miles away, as I sit in my home near Washington D.C. Hard to believe I was there a week ago, meandering the paths as I tried to re-orient myself to living on land after months on a boat.
I just had to stop there during my drive north. That song is a favorite on my harmonica. It makes me feel things … and feeling things is one of my goals in this stage of my life. As one of those “capable” people who also has 100%-Finnish DNA (according to Ancestry.com), I’ve learned to squash my feelings, or at least hide them. But in the wide-open space of what we call “retirement,” with time for reflection, I’ve learned that this habit has limited me. Kept me from being fully-alive. Kept me from knowing myself.
“There’s where my heart is turning ever, there’s where the old folks stay.”
The lyrics ran through my mind as I wandered among the amusingly-named southern flora of the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge, reflecting on the “old folks” in my own family. Dad’s sister had turned 105 a few days before and Mom turns 100 in a month or so. They both love words and still win at Scrabble. They would so enjoy the names displayed before me on wooden stakes. Sparkle Berry. Sweet Gum. Loblolly Pine. And, Horrible Thistle! (All thistles seem fairly horrible, especially the prickly kind that spreads at my camp in the far-north, no matter how many I dig up. But I didn’t know that one of them is actually named “horrible.” 😉 )
I saw the swampland version of familiar deciduous trees…Water Oak, River Birch…and marveled at their adaptability. And the exotic swamp cypress tree, which sprouts knees (woody projections) that grow vertically from waterlogged roots. What resilience!
It was a good lesson from nature as I got back into my car for 800 more miles behind a wheel (not helm). As I dodged a semi coming much too quickly into my lane from an on-ramp, with nowhere for me to go…as a car flew by me at 90+ mph and weaved through the lanes…I recognized my own resilience. Driving at high speed among moving hunks of metal is not that different from driving at 8.5 mph among barges and currents and tight river bends. In both cases, you need to look ahead. Scan constantly. Find escape routes just in case. Go with the flow, but with eyes wide open! And breathe. Always breathe.
And if I feel an emotion or two during this all this dodging and scanning? Maybe fear, followed by relief? That’s fine, too. Eyes wide open, but heart open too. That was my goal on the boat, and it’s my goal on land also. I’m amazed at how hard that is for a “capable Finn!” But then, hard challenges can be the most rewarding.
Just look at those cypress knees growing along the bank of the Suwanee River. It must be hard to find a foothold (root-hold?) in that swampy land. And yet, there they are.
For the full lyrics and history of “Suwanee River,” click here. (Note: This post is under “Reflections” on this blog. To read about the boat only, select “The Boat” from the menu.)