From Alabama to Great Britain, even a new river seems familiar

Mark Hammontree

There’s something special about rivers. I don’t know what it is exactly. It may be the sounds: quiet when the water flows wide and slow; or loud when it tightens up to crash over the rocks it meets in it’s path. Of course you also feel it just standing by a river and watching it flowing around a corner to places you’ve never known to wonder about and thinking long and hard if you should jump in to go along.

It very well could be the trees that hang over the banks like children unsure about whether it’s too cold to jump in, or maybe searching for crawfish. Maybe it’s the old piece of rope that someone tied to a limb that looked a little suspicious but didn’t make you think twice about grabbing hold to see what it felt like to fly for even a second.

I bet it’s probably the feeling right after you toss a rock so flat and smooth you almost wish you could hold onto it, but then it skips what must have been nine or ten times so you don’t feel so bad about losing it. Maybe it’s the snails and minnows you find in the small pools on the banks, or maybe it’s the bullfrogs croaking somewhere, everywhere.

I sit by Oxford’s calm Thames as it bends outside the city, but I am just as soon transported back to the Black Warrior or the Tennessee, the Alabama, the Cahaba. Each shares that specialness. Each shares that “it.” Little difference exists between old world Willows dipping into a British stream or moss leaned Oaks drooping in sleep on a Mississippi bayou. Nor exists much difference between those, like me, who find themselves drawn by mysterious feelings of familiarity and comfort, of life and rebirth.

You’ve heard already that you can’t step in the same river twice (it’s Pocahontas’s favorite thing). But in many ways rivers are the same wherever you find them. It could be then that sense of familiar newness, that feeling that memories are tied to water that has long since emptied into the ocean or been caught up in some lake, but that they are tied there all the same and can be found at any point along the waterway. Rivers are permanence in motion, always there to greet you but never in the same way. We build our cities and homes next to them to greet the new opportunities and history that flow in, with history and struggles, mistakes and triumphs exchanged to be carried downstream.

I daresay if any of you have ever really spent time by a river, as opposed to simply being next to a river, you know what I’m struggling to say. You know that few metaphors can move in you like those of rivers, be they called Change, Life, Death, Time, Love, Loss. You’ve probably come across a stream, whether in your backyard or thousands of miles from home, and have been content to stop and sit. Happy to wait a while by the river and watch with excitement as time flows endlessly in front of you.

Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary education.