My Wallkill – Caroline Paulson

The Walkill River as it passes near route 44/55 in Gardiner, NY.This river is a contrarian river, confusing everyone. I sit and watch it rippling along and I become lost. Am I upstream or downstream? The river laughs at me in a quiet, calm way.

‘Silly woman, who cares about such things? I am water, I am always flowing. it matters not where.”

The river moves from New Jersey north, up to my neighborhood on its way to the Hudson. Wanting to preserve its anonymous character, it drowns itself in another tributary before that final commingling with the famous Hudson, a River that flows south like most other rivers.

Sometimes the river is clear. When I rise early, I will see wavering reflections of the groves of trees on it’s banks. Small fish play. Prehistoric snapping turtles sit like guardians daring the hikers to approach the waters. The herons are more friendly. They walk on stilts near the shore, spearing the little lesser lives of the river. I watch but do not draw closer——staying still is my favorite disguise.

Often the river is muddy, sometimes smelly, reflecting the impact of all us humans who live concealed behind the river’s abundant trees. At these times the River communicates how tired it is of us——we keep our distance on these days. I wonder if we are using the correct cleaning products, and then I realize that the changes are big collective things———

I used to kayak the river, heedless of any danger, alone on the waters. As I observed more, I saw the risks of deadwood and contamination. Age has rendered me cautious. Now I miss the times of ignorant pleasure on the waters. My kayak sits alone near my home, ignored.

When great amounts of rain fall in New Jersey, this river floods my neighborhood in a most gentle, friendly way. In 2011 I sat on my deck and watched the waters rise a few inches each hour. My home briefly sat on an island. Some hours later the passing effect dissipated and the fields emerged again. The frogs climbed up my windows and sat sunning themselves before they retreated to the damp glistening grasses again.

The drama excites me.

The ancient and modern Nile also flows north. Do those people feel this way when the waters rise?

I always wanted to live in a place where the weather was variable and exciting. I want the conditions of my natural world to rule my life. Convenience be DAMNED! I never want to be so busy that I do not notice the skies, the earth and the waters. Moreover, I have the great blessing of living among people who share my feelings for this lovely patch of the earth.

The river accommodates my wishes without being too rough on me and those who live near me. The river helps us stay here by supplying subtle drama with little danger.

In winter the river decorates the trees and bushes with sparkling ice shelves, lined up according to the shifting water levels in our Humphoe which is the space where mountain streams flow down to the Wallkill. If I am lucky, I see tiny rainbows in the snow and ice.

Most of my blood relatives live in the south. They find it hard to understand the joy I take in brilliant snowy landscapes. They don’t want heavy coats or a heating oil bill. The notion of ice frightens them.

But I want to observe it all. Thirty seven years of seasons on the floodplain has not been enough. Conditions shift and each hour reveals a new vision——a different blaze of sunlight on the river or a different track of a gaggle of clouds through the big skies.

People wonder why I stay here and my short answer is that I want to watch the trees I planted grow. The truth is so much larger than that———so very much bigger.

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