“I am haunted by waters.” Like a song, the last refrain of the movie A River Runs Through It pulled at my heartstrings and released a flood of tears and buried longing. Surprised by my response, I realized that I ached for the rivers of my youth.
I was born on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Too young to connect with this broad body of water, somehow by osmosis, the calm seeped into my soul. After 7 years of moving from the Northwest to the Midwest and back, our family settled in Plain, Washington. Set in the wilds of the Northern Cascades, Plain was the antithesis of its name. The deep green spikes of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine clung to the back of the mountains like a cowboy clinging to his saddle and the Wenatchee River cut a snakelike path through the valley.
My dad claimed three pristine acres on the Wenatchee and began to build. Our home perched above the river; a bird’s nest pieced together with the help of friends, strangers, and borrowed materials. I grew up roaming the valley, often alone, but never lonely. How could I be lonely? I was in the sweet thick of mountain honey. In the quiet of my room I could hear the river’s song and my heart hummed along like a bee.
This bend of the river grew, as I grew, into a refuge. The river’s seasons mirrored my adolescent moods. Raging torrent in the late Spring turned to rushing laughter in the hot of summer and fall. Winter brought such a peace. With each blanket of snow, the sounds of the water quieted until I could almost feel it hibernating, waiting for the roar of Spring.
When my heart ached and I could barely hold the weight of my thoughts, I would jump off the school bus, run to the river and kneel at its banks. A small country church neighbored our property, and when the warm sun would creep across the sleepy congregation, the river would call to me and my mind would wander along its rocky banks.
Living next to this natural metaphor I knew that I was inextricably linked to everyone. When I met roadblocks, the river reminded me that there is always a way through. Herman Hesse describes a river in Siddhartha that holds all of humanity in its ceaseless and cleansing flow. This is the Wenatchee to me, a place where the rush of the water, coupled with the quiet solitude gave us kids full permission to cry, scream, sit, reflect, laugh, swim, build deep friendships, dream, fish, float and daily commune with God. Isn’t that everything a sacred space should hold?
Though I dearly love my West Hills Friends community, when the sun shines and the chickens call during a warm summer’s day, my heart longs to shake these walls and slip into a silver stream. Like a fish, I am drawn to the life-giving source, ever flowing, moving, growing. I am haunted and held by water.
Psalm 23 (Townley paraphrase)
The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want.
The shepherd says,
“Lie down in green pastures.
Sit beside still waters.
Restore your soul.”
— Jill Townley