It’s a trope, really–the river of time. Twain used it in the greatest, in my opinion, of American novels, about Tom and Huck and Jim. Joseph Conrad used it in his masterful narratives. I love water, creeks–especially mountain streams–but also slow-moving water in the swamps.
A lot of folks I have met in my decades have mocked the swamp, but I love it. If you’ve ever slept under a canopy of cypresses in the Okefenokee, or even pitched a shelter by slow-moving waters, it’s a spectacle. You hear frogs plop into the water and cicadas thrum. You feel the humidity. You hear the mosquitoes as they light upon your sweaty forearm and seek blood. You see their wings on the hairs of your forearms. You see the doves light upon oaks, then glide down onto sandy soil beneath. You see lonely whippoorwills walk out and call their incessant smooth whistles in the gloaming, when the sun lows and the palmetto rustles in the gathering dark.
This morning, on the way to Sunday school and corporate worship, my son and I were in the car together. My wife had gone early to rehearse with her fellow musicians. So Goob (my son’s nickname; don’t tell him I told you) and I were in the car. We came down the hills from where we live and turned onto the highway. it descended to where still more creeks run. Then we began ascending another hill and I saw them: a wake of vultures. They were feeding upon carrion. A young whitetail doe had been struck by a vehicle. She lay with her entrails exploded upon the grass adjacent to the highway.
The vultures gorged themselves, only scampering out of the way at the last moment as I drove past. Nothing wasted. The trees and briars and grasses fed the deer. The deer fed the birds. And I drove on, thinking of my Sunday school class, of the theme we’re exploring from the Scriptures: prayer.
I saw, in bloody reality, this world–birds pecking at carrion. Provision. Gross, in a sense? Yes, perhaps. But it teaches, if you have eyes to see, that life is bloody, that providence involves blood, that generations come and go.
That my son probably took no notice of the dead doe or the knobby-headed vultures, or of the way the sun was just above the hardwoods, or of the mangy dog by the black mailbox on the right at the crest of the hill, a neglected white clapboard house, a broken-down F-150 in the front yard, a dirty blanket-as-curtain covering the window–gnawed at my heart. Why? Because it was all there, displayed in red and black color, with the golden sun still rising, and the gray and black macadam, and the smell of it all in the air. It was all there–in the details. Scenes like this we pass countless times over many days, but how often do we really see? Teach us to number our days.