The Truth About Stars and Rivers

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There’s this nostalgia I feel when I walk along the river. I feel it also when I watch half-cloudy sunsets, and when I look for Orion and Canis major on winter nights.

The cold sinks through my wool slippers as I stand on the concrete deck alongside my house. I tighten my robe’s sash and squint. Fuzz filling in the empty sky could almost be those missing stars. If I squint long enough I believe I can see them, just faintly, beyond the car-dust sky-scraper skunk-sky, all the hidden ancient lights, hemmed together like light blue thread. I think of the first humans; the ones who didn’t know what the stars were, quite yet. I miss something, I long for something. The few stars that I see are beautiful, but they and I are lost together without their companions.

And the river, too, is beautiful, but it is not whole. When I come down the hill in my car, and turn the corner, the great Willamette River separates oak tree hills. From this distance I can’t see the train tracks, the highway, or the abandoned paper mill along its banks. Just river and sky. Every time I drive past here I think of Lewis and Clark. The water, matte, as though it has absorbed both sunlight and the shadows of trees. This is a landscape like what they must have seen. I think of the Native people who fished on platforms in Willamette Falls. The eternal circle of salmon.

Now the water is toxic. Those factories left their foulness in the currents and the sediment beneath. There’s agriculture run-off, remnants of wastewater overflows, car filth. I want to go back to when the river could be trusted. Even though I wasn’t there, I miss those days when the water was pure. And so each stretch of beauty is tinged with nostalgia, which, of course, is just a more satisfying word for sadness.

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