As a child I lived in a house on a hill that overlooked this dam. My sister and I often sat up in the window of the barn to get a clear view of the wall of water cascading downward and crashing against the rocks. From our perch, I inhaled the earth of the river, the moist mustiness penetrated my bones. I listened to the roar of it’s movement and the splash as it bounced back up from the rocks and lapped against the side wall of the dam. I could almost feel the mist splash across my face as the droplets bounced back into the air. Mesmerized by the river’s shift of emotions I watched from my position of safety. The water calmly flowed toward the dam. Then it violently thrust over the wall, and rippled and waved until it settled as it continued traveling away from me. For as long as I can remember I have both loved the river with every ounce of my being and have been shaken to my core in awe of it’s energy.
Once I was placed on the bridge in a car, I imagined the bridge collapsing beneath us and splattering our bodies against the sharp rocks. I don’t think I felt this way before Hurricane Camille. It was then that I became aware of the power of water. I began to fear the river, but only from the bridge. I could sit on the banks below the dam and bridge and be perfectly content with sliding off the muddy bank into knee deep water. I’d even venture waist high and savor the singing of the water trickling around the rocks.
Many a night, my sister and I roasted wienies on a bonfire while my brothers and dad fished. We ran barefoot through the damp sand crunching sand between our toes and listening to the serenade of the bullfrogs and cicadas. Our hair matted to our heads as we stretched across the sand to watch the stars dance across the sky as the moon lit up the river. There was something sacred about touching our ears to ground. This simple act allowed us to not only hear but touch through vibration the very life that surrounded us. We listened to cars spin gravel at the curve before the bridge and then listened to the tires screech across…when the cars reached the safety of road after exiting the bridge it was if our ears were pulled forward when the echo over the water deepened into the solidity of ground.
All of these tiny droplets of water combine to create a body of water that constitutes the river. The residents of this town connect to form a community. It is the community of the past, present, and even the future combined that create the history of Schuyler.
From this point you can see where the powerhouse was literally ripped from the dam.
A good forty years have passed since I last stood upon that bridge. I was a young girl, and it was a fairly new bridge at the time as Camille had washed the old steel bridge away. This past weekend I stood upon that bridge and contemplated the strength and the beauty I’ve drawn from that river. I’d watched many a dream crash upon those rocks or drift out to sea. I’d been that tangled mess of roots that cling to the muddy banks, but most importantly the water nourished and sustained those roots…we’ve all endured. Like the river, I’ve rerouted and formed new paths in life that have resulted in a most unexpected journey of blessings.
The sheer power of the water is overwhelming when you hear it roaring and lapping against the rocks. During Hurricane Camille the river leveled to the height of the dam. I remember, at age six, the terror of seeing life as we knew ripped from us. My town was torn apart…damages physically and emotionally crippled us. That very same river that had sustained us and threatened to take our lives restored us.
Like life differs from every perspective, so does the river from the angle of the dam, the bridge, or the bank. And we all know perspective is everything. It is how we approach life, what we experience, and how we remember. Life to each of us is what we take from it…we can take the fish, rocks, tree limbs, bad or good memories, beauty, energy, or sustenance from the river. The choice is ours.
If you stand in a certain position on the bridge and the sun is shining just so, you can see all the colors of the rainbow at one moment or another develop and linger over the mist that forms as the water crashes and splashes on the rocks after it passes over the dam. As I watched the colors form and disappear, my memories did the same. I realized I’ve lived a life of color and beauty, anything of less color or beauty has been painted over by something much greater.
When I was a little girl, this rock was massive and smooth. Over time, wind and water has delicately carved it into a unique piece of art, much like my life experiences have shaped me into the person I am today.
The back side of this dam looks entirely different from the front side. The water is placid and reflective where there is no gentleness about the water plunging over the concrete wall. I suppose people’s appearances can be quite distinct from their innermost thoughts and feelings.
This soapstone slab smokestack survived the big flood of 1969. The powerhouse and bridge washed downstream. These are remnants of a time gone by, just as we are remnants of a once bustling town. We are connected on some level whether we acknowledge it or not. Each of us is marking our place in this town’s history, all equally important to the flow of time.
I am not an engineer or a scientist, so I can’t rightly claim to know exactly how a turbine extracts energy from the flow of water. Simple human that I am, I am energized and renewed by the water’s flow. Both the touch and sound renews me. I respect the river’s power to give or take life. It’s danger humbles me, and it’s beauty blesses me.
Steam no longer escapes from the chimney stack. It serves as a reminder that we were here, and we thrived. Some day, the rocks might crumble thus causing the smokestack to fall, just as we eventually make our way to the other side. It doesn’t negate what this river or town brought into our lives or what we brought to it. The most important of things live on in hearts and memory.
Once upon a time, I used to run through the river…now, the river runs through me.