by Kathleen Stocker

On December 21, 1841, three and a half years before he went to live at Walden Pond on Independence Day of 1845, Henry Thoreau wrote, “I want to go soon and live away by the pond, where I shall hear only the wind whispering among the reeds.”

I believe my strong urge to live by the water comes from my need to take a break from the rat race of life. The best part about a visit to my vacation home on the river near Dunnellon is taking the time to rejuvenate my weary mind and gain a positive, warm, and open philosophy towards all life like Thoreau’s.

Previously, Grandma’s presence and her sweet unconditional love meant so much to me as a young mother. Now I treasure my delicious outdoor interlude in place of the actual wrapping my arms around her and hugging Grandma. The house belongs to my husband and me because we bought it from Doug’s father after he inherited it. The ritualistic placement of the low-rise beach chair near the lone front-yard oak tree riddled with woodpecker holes gives me, the absentee homeowner, the precise vantage point to soak up the panoramic view of the opposite side of the Withalachoochee riverbank bordered by dense forest. The sculpted passageway through the cypress trees enlarged by Grandpa forty years ago pinpoints my connection to the river. There Grandpa and Frank the neighbor, pulled on waders, used curved hand saws, and lowered the cypress knee’s tops to a safe navigational height.

cypress tree swampWhen I focus my trained eye to follow the curvy edge of the riverbank as the water meets the forest’s undergrowth, I can spot the miniature channel through the cypress trees. Finding the spot is like winning a prize at a special contest; this place is near the hairpin turn at the confluence of the Rainbow River and the Withalachoochee River. The smaller fourteen foot SeaKing aluminum boat, then piloted by a young grandson (Doug, my husband), could safely avoid the larger boats whipping around this curve. An average boater doesn’t notice the passageway covered with a canopy of feathery cypress branches, so only a trained observer or a family member knows just the right direction to steer the boat in order to keep out of harm’s way. These cypress trees change with the seasons. Winter time makes the top bare branches look like tiny fingers trying to scratch the edges of the rolling clouds. The span of four layers of power lines threads its way through the trees as the sole evidence of civilization.

Meanwhile, the river current flowing from left to right is telltale because the clumps of hyacinths are floating along their way to the next bend in the river. That bumpy log just offshore could be an alligator in disguise. The grassy patch of land one third of the way across the river that shields wildlife from speedboats bouncing through the little cove is also a home for the coots. Their chartreuse legs are partially submerged while this sleek black bird uses its yellowish-orange beak to pluck out shiny food with fins from the brindle-colored water. The v-shaped ripples zigzag behind the coots that scoot across the glassy surface of the water.

A few yards from my chair, the seawalls, the concrete deck-like sidewalk, and the stairs leading to the patio are being taken over by the same elements of nature that the builders hope to overcome by their hark work. The force of the waves from the boat traffic relentlessly undermines the man-made riverbank. The top edge of the underwater concrete slab seawall is adjacent to the sectioned sidewalk that is slowly working its way apart from the crumbling concrete block retaining wall. A blue heron landing without brakes on the sidewalk gives the seawall a thorough inspection before taking off without warning. On the far end of the sidewalk, the waist high wall dead ends at the shallow area previously used for a boat ramp.

Four wide stairs that lead up from the sidewalk welcome nature lovers to the checkerboard marked patio. Rusty threaded plumbing pipes used as handrails look surprisingly rough and smooth at the same time. On the right side of the handrails, the electric light pole with a toggle switch halfway up the pole resembles a soldier on guard duty with a WWI helmet on. On the side facing Frank’s place, the concrete’s patio’s edge is in alignment with another waist high retaining wall coming out from the wall of the basement. The path around the end of this wall leads up to a sharp slippery incline to where my lawn chair sits. My hand ouches from the tree bark’s harsh texture as I steady myself while opening the lawn chair with my free hand. While studying fascinating tree bark patterns, I am startled by the big splash. Catching a glimpse of a fish or an otter jumping is as illusive as the angler’s dream. The sound of the splash jerks my head around, but I just have to guess what is under the circular ripples.

On the empty lot side, the grass creeps onto the edge of the patio. No greenery is manicured. Listening to the wind’s perpetual whispers through the overgrown elephant ears and tall reeds is becoming like the perfect background music for the birds, crickets, and frogs. While the tall strong stalk supports a bouquet of blooms, the long broad waxy leaves from a spider lily flop down near an overhanging oak. The lily’s tint of port wine purple begins at its center, follows along the petals and fades into a pure white tip. Coming off the river, the breeze is almost addictive; consequently, I breathe deeply.

The constant change in the water’s surface flash-dances in the shimmering sunlight. I just imagine the tiny glints of light are twinkling wings of fairies darting back and forth in imperfect rhythm. I strive to take what is precious home, but when I peer towards that special place where another grandson’s adventures may lead him to hear the whispering of the wind in the reeds, serenity becomes my treasure.

Photo by Deborah Kunzie