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That pesky water-horse

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Christine

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This time of year, which around here is the harshest, is the part when I feel closest to death. Not to my own personal death, nor to the dead ancestors, but to death. Not to the crazed struggle for life that is dying, nor to the shuffled coil, but to death. I feel close to the raw and stinky fact of death at this time of every year, and it's because of that dang nisky.

 

It's one of those difficult topics that I never have been able to talk about successfully. Sometimes it seems too banal, because of course people drown in rivers. Sometimes my tongue roots itself in my mouth because a glimpse of that thing has made a genuine hard case, the kind of person who smuggles guns in their mattress, literally shit their pants. So I stick my nose back in my books, and I watch my children, and I keep my windows sealed. I try to think of other things, things I can do something about, and I often succeed. At other parts of the year I succeed.

 

This part though, this is when I have seen the river hunt. The police always say the men are drunk. Mostly they find them out a bit, bobbing around. They must have been out drinking the night before and fallen into the cold river. But there was that one man they couldn't explain as well. Why did he walk down under the aqueduct? How did he wind up off the stones and into the mud? How did he sink into the mud up to his waist? Why didn't he answer his friends when they called out for him, or make any noise at all while the tide came back in?

 

That one shook the department up a bit. They wanted to know if we had heard anything, seen anything, and what could I say? Officer, the river walks at night as a colossus and hunts men in reparation for the poison from the train yard. Okay little girl.

 

I can barely tell you guys. The river hunts. It's hunting right now, and there's not one damn thing I can do. It's hella bigger than me, and it's pissed, and it ought to be pissed. It doesn't want apologies or praise. It doesn't want presents. It wants to take its due, and it does.

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Very interesting thoughts, I don't know specifically what river you're talking about, but I spent some time getting to know the mighty and arrogant James just below the fall line when I was homeless in Richmond.  There isn't much you can do to stop a river once it has its mind bent on destruction.  Something that stretches back far further than any train yard (which there are specifically two in the city limits there) is that the city itself was the largest slave port in the US at one point, today you might see a barge at the port once a day, if that.  There is always a lot of very strange activity in the lower Shockoe bottom area  when a ship is in town (strangely, this is also where Edgar Allen Poe's childhood home and now his museum is located.)  Even today the city seems to have a black cloud hanging over it from the inhumane activities that happened there.  People often disappear into the river because of random flash floods and sometimes because they tempt fate on the class 5 rapids in the fall line.  Perhaps the sorrow the river was forced to endure and even its location itself is all connected.  Several years ago Hurricane Isabel completely flooded hundreds of blocks of the city, destroying much of the old industrial district.

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I know exactly what you mean, as I have seen the James there in full spate. The river I wrote of is the Elizabeth River, especially at Scott's Creek. I think that what really sent this spirit over the edge was the industrial pollution. The area in general is a Superfund site, although the little tributaries get overlooked. Those trains carry a lot of coal, and then the dust blows into the creek.

Homeless in Richmond, that must have sucked. I remember in the nineties, I met some folks who got out of there because the rich people were, well, just plain mean.

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