When the Past is a Pool of Water by the River’s Edge

I scramble down the trail to the ravine, feet sliding on loose rocks, camera balanced on one hip.  When I catch my breath, I look up to see what I’ve come for:  the river, twisting green in the sun.

This is the place I come to when I need to think about the Past — need the sensation of something rushing away, disappearing around a bend. Today, though, as I leap across a line of boulders near the river’s edge, the Past just won’t recede.  A quiet hurt still lingers — as if dirty water washed over me and left a residue — and I can’t seem to scrub it from the gray matter.

Oh, mercy, I whisper:


Sometimes it seems like the only prayer I know.


It would be an easy mistake, whether you know me by my words or in everyday life, to misread my gentleness as a deeper form of goodness.  To see me as the most shiny and unblemished sort of saint:  sweet-faced.  Sweet-voiced.  White-frocked, well-dressed — eternally clean.

People make this mistake all the time.

But the truth is, if I’m a saint, I’m one with skinned knees and a dented halo — a sinner, stumbling drunkenly toward some holy glow.  I’m a complicated creature, drawn toward complicated situations, with a penchant for getting lost … and when the Maker knit me together in my mother’s womb, he gave me the blessing and curse of a wandering heart and a ravenous mind.

Thank Heaven, he also made me a mouth to cry for mercy.


So I stand on the river’s edge, praying and shooting:  white water, muscling through rapids.  The light shattered like a mirror on the rocks.

Don’t let all this beauty fool you, I think.  This is a dangerous place.  Hikers have been swept to their deaths here, and the rangers have posted signs telling me so.

But my stubborn heart never could heed a warning.  And besides:  any place you go to hurl the hurt away from you is a place where you might be dragged under with it, if you don’t know when to let go.




On this day, the mercy comes as a flash of light at my feet.  I look down and see where the river has pooled in the boulders.  The pools have polished the stone smooth, and the water within is skinned with green moss.

I drop to my knees and adjust the lens. And I understand then, with this palmful of water in my viewfinder, that there are places in the heart where the past can get caught — where the hurt forms a pool. And who knows, then, how long it takes for such a wound to heal?  For a hollow of water to evaporate into sky??

But.  Even a moss-clouded pool reflects the sun, however faintly:


Even a scar is a wound that has healed, in its way…


I leap from the rocks to the sand.  Walk toward where the river curves in a calmer stretch.  My eyes hunt through the wreckage of old floods:  bottles and broken glass.  Tires.  Twisted tree limbs.

And I’ll tell you:  there is beauty everywhere, if you know how to look.  If you have eyes trained by mercy.

I stand very still. I am waiting, I guess, for the sun to make its way down into these small pools.  To turn them into flame.

I breathe — breathe — my fingertip tingling against the shutter button.

I’ll tell you a secret that every good sinner knows:

rocks The Mercy is already here.  β€


  1. There are others who write with words more seductive, feigning depth and drawing admirers, for prose and verse that are lost in ambiguity. “It makes no sense, it must be brilliant.”
    And then there the deceptively straightforward images and confessions of Ashley. Photographs that draw the eye, compel thought, and incite the imagination. A finely crafted narrative that always speaks her truths while offering verity for all. She is truly gifted. In ways she probably can’t appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Joseph! It’s always hard for me to know if I’m finding the right balance between universality and personal honesty. I love that you’re here (sincerely) and that you find some pleasure and enjoyment in this place … Hope you’re enjoying a beautiful fall day in Appalachia! πŸ™‚


  2. I know I always say this, but your writing is so beautiful. It evokes so many feelings and thoughts, and paints such a lovely, descriptive picture! Wow! All of this accompanied by such dreamy photography…well done. *Slow clap*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words! Writing is just such good and healthy therapy for me, and it always makes me happy to hear that it’s bringing a little joy to somebody else, too. πŸ™‚ I love that you’re here–wishing you lots of dreaminess and productive writing of your own! ❀

      Liked by 1 person

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