Loitering and Licorice

A friend of mine recently said to me (roughly):  there is something about a walk by a river that makes all right with the world.  I understand this.  There is something inexplicably soothing about walking by water.

I am reminded of walking by the Scioto River with my grandfather when I was very young.  I remember walking down to the river with him and stopping to get licorice along the way as if it was something we did often together.  In reality, it probably happened only once–we lived three states apart.

We walked slowly together, talking very little.  There was something about Grandpa I liked.  I have so little memory of him that it’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was.  Something went quiet inside when I was around him.  Like I needed to listen very carefully for something important.

When we stopped at the grocery store, the plastic packages of licorice hung from metal rods pointing at me, demanding my attention.  I will forever associate black licorice with my grandfather–he was one of the few people I’ve known in my life who would go out of his way for it.

With our brown paper bag full of licorice, we made our way across the busy road I was never allowed to cross on my own.  We walked across the bridge, back when it had a steel arch capping it.  The pedestrian walkway separated us from the traffic, but I remember it being all metal–our footsteps generating a soft metallic clang as we made our way across.

About halfway, there was a sign that said “No Loitering.”  I asked my grandfather what loitering meant.  He made a garbled explanation, and then said “like this” and he sort of shuffled around in one place.  For months, I thought it was some kind of dance step.  I couldn’t quite figure out why you weren’t allowed to dance on the bridge.

We made our way over the river, stopping to look down at the water periodically.  We were probably loitering.

When we eventually made it to the other side, the water lapped slowly at the bank.  The ducks paddled towards us in the water, hoping for a handout from our mysterious brown bag.

We walked slowly, listening to the water, watching the light bounce off of it and the rest of the world disappeared.

Now, when I walk along the Tennessee River, the world gets bigger, brighter, and quieter all at the same time.  I look at the clouds that decorate the river valley.  I watch for the heron soaring along the banks.  I watch the people crossing the Walnut Street Bridge, silhouetted against the setting sun.  I listen to the water, the birds, the insects, and even the occasional shout from an exuberant teenager.  As a I look for images I want to frame with my camera and keep, I am in that moment enjoying the river and all is right with the world.

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