The Last River
I avoid doing something by collecting things to do it.
This is how I don’t write: I gather pens - fountain pens; glass pens; wooden pens with nibs of copper and bronze - bottles of ink named Havana Brown and Aubergine; dusky fluid that flows as swift as thought to paper. Paper - 50#, 20#, 80#, cardstock, linen, vellum, parchment. Books on writing - how to start, what to write, why to keep going, and where to read what’s been written.
This is how I don’t die: I collect stones to put on my grave. I have small stones to make a heart around my initials. My grandmother’s is marked so. Her descendants straighten the stones in spring to please her spirit, and in autumn to kiss her good night for the winter before we leave the island. “Näkemiin, Grandma!” [“Soon again!”] The youngest great-grandchildren especially like this task. They talk about grandmas they know - short, tall, skinny, round, silly, happy, mad. Well-loved grandmas.
One spring, all of us on our knees, the children chatting happily, running to find other stones - it came to me that they had never met this woman I loved so deeply, whose grave we tended. I realized that their children, who will play cheerfully and work hard at their life’s tasks, and whom I would love deeply too, I will never meet.
In order not to die, I started collecting stones for my grave. I want a heart around my initials near my grandmother and great-grandmother, made with rocks just like theirs.
I have a stone that bruised my hand when I tipped out of my canoe, and from more than one river shore where I landed triumphant and dry. Stones from beautiful majestic rivers who allowed me to ride their arteries - Au Sable, Huron, Lochsa, Niobrara, Salmon, Shoshone, Snake, Pere Marquette, Youghiogheny. Mighty eternal rivers who shared their life, and I took a pebble with appreciation.
Friends who know my purpose bring me stones - ancient rock from Mt. Kilimanjaro; from Senegal and Switzerland; from Grosse Pointe and Galway. River stones from Kenya’s Masai Mara, when placed in my hand, came with a story, “a hippo probably pooped on this one, and an elephant stood on this to have a drink.”
For a time I labeled the stones, placed them lovingly in plastic bags marked with their origin, and thought of the places and people who brought the stones and blessed them all. Now I bless the friends and save the stones and write the stories.
There will be a last river. I know one day I will die. It will be a good day, and the days will go on. Perhaps my sisters’ or brothers’ grandchildren will tend my name and my heart made of stones, and perhaps they will tell the stories of the stones or perhaps they will not.
They will be admiring their own earth’s stones and making their own stories. They will have people they love and who love them.
I am peaceful knowing I will share all ancient stone stories when the universe is my heart and my name matters to no one, and I land triumphant on the last river’s shore.
Linda Robinson is an artist who is still growing up in a small town in beautiful Michigan. Her art can be viewed at Thomas Video in Clawson, DaVinci Gallery in Adrian, and on her website at www.58moon.com