Monday, July 7, 2008

A Boat, a River, and Some Time to Think

The metal railing cooled my hands
while the eastern breeze massaged my face. It was the hum of the boat's motor and the voices of exhausted Chinese travelers that told me where I was. It was the bobbing noodle cup that told me when.

"So, this is the Yangtze?" I casually asked the young man to my left.

"Yes, the Yangtze. The weather is good today."

I agreed. "Hubei is beautiful."

An army of regal peaks and precipices stood at attention, saluting the majesty of the sparkling river below. It moved slowly under the setting sun, like an old man reminiscing about youth and greatness. At this hour, the hills dressed in gold. The advances of Man left them pockmarked on the lower slopes, but they stood with honor. I looked closer to see the pines mingling with broad-leafs, sharing thoughts of former times. Their stories are ageless and their language, pure. I leaned onto the railing and tried to listen.

My imagination stalled the motor and muted the voices. Where the noodle cup used to be, a large fish jumped, trying its luck at an insect bouncing playfully on the water's surface. The mountains looked full and alive. On the opposite side of the river, wrestless monkeys gossiped about the neighboring clan, only silenced by the howl of a wolf or the crackling of underbrush. Two wary deer tiptoed to the water's edge for a few quick sips, knowing all too well that a tiger could be lurking nearby. The waves kept hitting the shore like two good friends slapping five. Dusk was approaching, and the swallows were flying fast to observe curfew. They stopped on their way to offer a song to the forest and a melody for the trees. The wind picked up. In the last moments of visibility, I watched the air move through the treetops. The pines and broad-leafs were dancing, unashamed and understood.

The moment passed, and I was again standing in the golden glow of sunset. A lone shoe looked grossly out of place in the water. The waves on the shore sounded more like coughing now, and I was brought back to the incessant metallic chugging and cacophony of voices. Daylight was dimming, but on a distant hillside by a small home stood a mother in a long black dress, running her hands through her young son's hair and pointing at our boat with the other. The boy waved enthusiastically. No one on the boat reacted. Maybe they were preoccupied and couldn't see. After hesitating, I grinned and waved back.

"Do you know them?" The young man was still at my side.

"No." I didn't know them, and they didn't know me. A kind face and a friendly gesture would make a fine story to tell the next time an eastern breeze descends on the hillside. The pines and broad-leafs are probably less concerned about the changing of participants in their stories than they are about the changing of their frequency. I couldn't linger; but in passing, this was my song. Unlike the swallows, the melody was hidden. The trees nodded and waved with each new gust. An old-looking tree stood alone in a pensive posture. Where have the tigers gone, do you know? Its weathered branch stretched out and stretched far to point the way, but the directions were obscure. The frail limb struggled to hold still in the wind. Maybe it, too, didn't really know.

The boat rounded a bend, continuing on its course. "Yelu!" The young man grabbed my shoulder and pointed to a clearing, his eyes wide with delight. Could there really be wild deer like he was claiming? I hadn't yet seen any in China. I followed his finger and saw three animals in the distance. Their legs were a little short, I thought, and their movements were like those of grazing goats. The lighting was poor and the clearing was far. Masking any doubt, my eyes matched his in excitement, "Ah, Yelu!"

5 comments:

mama K said...

YOU ARE THE BEST WRITER ON THE PLANET!!! YOU HAVE GOT TO KNOW WHAT INCREDIBLE NATURAL TALENT YOU HAVE!! THIS WAS AN ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE OF SUCH A SIMPLE DESCRIPTION OF A FEW MOMENTS IN YOUR LIFE! OH MY GOSH, KEEP WRITING!! YES, YOU COULD BE A TRAVEL WRITER!!! I LOVE THE WAY YOU WRITE SUCH VIVID DESCRIPTIONS OF SUCH SIMPLE EVENTS. USE YOUR TALENT THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE!! ANY ENGLISH PROF. WOULD BE AMAZED!!

t.whitty said...

wow! very impressive! check out lonely planet, you can apply to be a writer and it's on a contract-to-contract basis

Drake Family said...

I agree with mom!!! Looks like you have found your calling in life. And if you don't become an author, we will all be very disappointed.

da Bergs said...

I LOVE reading your posts!!!

da Bergs said...

So... did you ask your mom? I want to know her response!!!