Everything you need to know about love can be found in a canoe…
Maybe the reason Michael recites poetry whenever we are in the natural world, rather than, say, when doing the dishes or taking out the trash, is to attempt to narrate, to hold within the bounds of language, a kind of beauty, joy, fear that we will never completely understand. Much like love itself. Lines of poetry, image and metaphor, frame the encounter, just for a moment, pins down what shifts and changes before our eyes. The mountains, the woods, the rivers, never fully known, yet familiar in the ways they call to us, are caught in image. Suppose your father was a red bird, Pattiann Rogers asks. Suppose that before you knew how to speak you knew the “slow spread of his wing.” Then, the poet continues,
Then you would be obligated to try to understand
What it is you recognize in the sun
As you study it again this evening
Pulling itself and the sky in dark red
Over the edge of the earth.
Language fails us in both love and beauty; yet it’s all we have.
I don’t think it is happenstance that Michael and I fell in love under the flap of a heron’s wings. On a river, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be. Everything you need to know about love, the fierce ties that bind us as well as the branches that will take you down, can be found in a canoe.
The four of us stood on the banks of the Little Bear under a sunless sky. Wind whipped against our wet bodies. Michael had lost his glasses and couldn’t see. The canoe and everything with it was gone.
“It doesn’t matter what we lost,” Kellen said, the first words any of us spoke, uttered as he watched his favorite hat and green water bottle sail down the river. “The important thing is that we all survived.”
And that was, of course, true. It’s indeed what I felt standing on the bank, the four of us holding onto one another, the boys without shoes, Michael unable to see, water streaming from our clothes. We had made it.