CONFLUENCE: an extended metaphor

A great unmapped continent lays to the West. Records and tales of exploration give assurance that an ocean lays beyond it. In inexplicable desire to see its shore fills your heart. Putting faith in those written words, embark. Choose your path. But which is the best way to go? Nature has determined it. The lay of the land and the force of the Earth have opened up a highway across the plains, through the forests and between the mountains. Follow it upstream.

Do you know how to find the source of a river? There are a few simple rules one must follow to be sure that they’ve discovered the ultimate source. At first all the tiny tributaries will be obvious in comparison to the great river. Pass them by. When you reach your first major confluence stop, take time, consider. Do not become distracted by the beauty of one stream over another or the clarity of the waters. Do not choose the river for its calm surface. Instead ask, “which has the greater flow?” Do not measure just the breadth, for the stream may be shallow. Do not measure simply the depth, for that branch may be narrow. Consider both and calculate. Follow the greater of the two further in and farther up. The choice is important. The wrong course may lead you to a nebulous swamp rather than the ocean. The nearest stream may lead to an isolated basin or desert plain, where the waters evaporate instead of reaching the sea.

Repeat the required assessment at each major fork. Paddle hard upstream for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles until the belly of your canoe drags along the stones. Abandon the vessel which has been your home. Pack the little you can carry. Walk along the narrowing banks. The river will split into streams, into brooks, into rivulets and inevitably a spring which mysteriously rises from the earth. You’ve found the root of the river. Or have you? Where does the water come from? What renews it?

Gaze across the slope of scree which serves as a net to catch the rains. Which rock is it that catches and releases the primary drop? Where is the ultimate source? Continue on towards the Continental Divide. The path will be covered in snow. It will seem as if the waters you have followed have become inaccessible, frozen and immobile. Look closely, the sun manages to melt snow on most days. Behold the trickle or glacial brook which musically disappears into the moraine. Imagine a stream running along the bedrock down to the mouth of the spring. Should this be considered the true source of the river?

Press on towards the ridge. Straddle that created line which separates all that which flows east from that which flows west. Watch that the melt from the crest flow in each direction. Are the snows, in which your feet are sinking, the source of this river or that? Does the snow flow east, flow west or not at all? If the source is the same, then should both descending rivers bear the same name? If the waters mysteriously connect below the surface, if the glacier unites the flow… is the great divide merely a human contrivance or an actuality?

Follow the trickle downstream. Carve a dugout in the forest below. Immerse it in the waters and rest your tired feet but remain attentive. The adventure is not over. Keep an eye out for rapids. Keep an ear tuned to the sound of distant falls. Even with the occasional obstacle, the journey has become easier. Gravity has been the foe for hundreds, thousands of miles. Now let it be your friend. Every juncture had been a decision, a process of elimination, a narrowing of possibility. Now they are reunions. There are no more forks, only confluences.

Rest as the river runs its course. When the cry of birds and the smell of brine awaken you, get ready. Shield your eyes from the beating sun with a weathered hand and look for a landing. Be aware of the waves which are more powerful than any freshwater rapid. Grab the paddle which has been neglected for so many miles. Scatter the crabs as you drag the canoe up onto the shore. Find a patch of warm dry sand, sit and smile. The tales of exploration were not fabrication. The faith which sparked a journey was not foolish. The uncharted territory, although seen and crossed, is still full of mystery. The rivers do run true. The waters ahead are finally too great to cross in your tiny vessel; that fact brings you peace.

Sit in silence. Watch the sky pan through the spectrum of colors until the orange-red sun touches the horizon. You’ve finally found the true source of the river. It is the sun which causes steam to rise from the ocean, clouds to form as the moisture travels over the continental expanse and rain to fall on the mountains, forests and plains. Dig your toes into the shadowing sands and ponder.

Do I return via the great river to tell the others, or make a home here instead?

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