(Sometimes it’s tough to feel at home in your own city. Which is why I’ve given myself a challenge: each day, for forty days, I’m going to find *one* thing I love about this place. And then I’m going to tell you about it. If you want to follow my journey, start here. Today is Day Eighteen.)
Yesterday, I went down to the river to think.
Rivers are good for thinking, like trails are good for thinking. But while a trail, with its steady upward climb, always seems to lead me toward something — a revelation, a sense-making moment — rivers are about what’s washing away.
The Roanoke River winds quick and green through this town. It flows in loops and whorls past parks and greenways, then curls close to kiss the edge of Old Southwest. From there, it zags east. Seaward.
If you were following the river just a little ways past the city itself, you’d come to an old dam with what looks like a sand-colored stone house perched atop. Just a little farther and the river would dip beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway, the bridge of the highway floating high, high above.
Now come to the river from a different angle. From the parkway itself. Drive until you reach the bridge, and pull your car over into a narrow slice of parking lot just at the edge of the ravine.
Walk down the trail to the water.
It’s a quiet river, but like all rivers, it speaks:
Let it go.
Yesterday, I walked down that path as stormclouds gathered above.
I stared up at the bridge looming high and white above me. In this light, its tall supports reminded me, somehow, of gothic flying buttresses.
It was just an overpass in the woods, but for a moment it felt like a roadside cathedral.
I climbed down the rocks where water rested in pools, like tiny mirrors full of sky. I sat down at the river’s edge. Watched its greenness furl past.
Water under the bridge.
And I thought about how the water passes under the bridge and flows away. Flows away, but it does not disappear.
The water surges toward the sea. Freezes into ice. Sublimates into cloud, settles as frost, as dew. And maybe this is what redemption means: not an erasure, but a transfiguration.
The water that once nearly drowned us falls later as rain, and greens the earth.
We walk out into the rainstorm with faces and palms upturned, and drink.
I waited by the water until my heart begin to release what it needed to release. I waited until a wind kicked up, coming through the trees. Until the clouds opened.
Back inside my car, I watched the rain run down my windshield, silver and gleaming. And I began to believe that the water under the bridge could be transformed into something beautiful. That I might make it beautiful.
Which is what a river does.
And what Art does.
And what the Divine does.
I went home, and I wrote.