I drove past Christian churches with packed parking lots. Sunday rain creamed the streets, shook holy umbrellas and dampened church clothes. I was heading to my church, the sanctuary, the river, the rain, to commune with Bonnie and Clyde.
My mind meandered toward my arid youth as a preacher’s kid where I learned nothing of love and compassion sitting in pews or coloring in Jesus workbooks.
I knew what went on inside the other churches. Did they know what happened inside mine? There is no inside my church. Why don’t more people worship the outside church. The only sermon spoken there is the silent one in a language older than words. The river metaphors of the other church are fake because they don’t unfold at the river. There is no flow at all. Their water ends up being treated by chemicals. Their roofs always leak.
We splashed our way through the partially-flooded pasture to the river. Bonnie was leashed and to my right. Clyde was unleashed and to my left. I was loaded with treats.
There is nothing like splashing with dogs.
We found the path to the river and it was covered a foot deep in unmarked mud, a perfect brown sheen.
There is nothing like going through mud with dogs.
The river was running with extraordinary pace. Leaves, branches and root wads floated by. So did a chaise lounge.
I looked across the channel and saw a red bra hung up in the willows. It couldn’t possibly be there, but there it was. The bra and the color of the bra suggested a clue to a murder mystery somewhere in the upper reaches of the watershed. I started writing the scene right there, in my mind, in rain. I imagined a man wearing that bra, a dairy farmer, unhooking it in a dimly-lit barn or cabin and then someone entering the barn…and then….
A blue heron lifted off downriver, squawking its antediluvian squawk. Bonnie and Clyde and I traced its undulating flight over the bra, into the trees and up into the clearcut. I decided I’d use the heron for the crime story. A blue heron, a red bra and a clearcut. There was something very noir Oregon in that.
I struck up a conversation with Bonnie and Clyde about the story. I riffed on a plot. I fed my critics treats when they guffawed to a hot line.
There is nothing like telling a murder story to dogs.
I remembered it was November 12, my ex-wife’s birthday. I whipped out my phone and texted her well wishes, a poor substitute for the homemade card she so richly deserved. She had stood by me through everything. She would design the cover of the Bonnie and Clyde book. She had taught me so much about loyalty, dogs, herons and silences. I had forgotten many of those lessons but they are returning to me at the river.
Bonnie and Clyde left my side and went into the tall grass to investigate something. Maybe it was the matching red panties for the bra. Oh yes! Let the dogs find the panties! Put that in the story! They would bring the panties to the detective. They would get a special treat for finding a clue.
I remembered an obscure technical word about rivers that I read decades ago in an ancient text about rivers. Thalweg—the deepest part of the river. Until now, I had never written it before. It is an odd sounding word, not riverine at all, not mellifluous as all river words should sound.
Nevertheless, if a river word from my past flows into my mind while I’m standing near a river, I must embrace that word, put it to use in such a way that is inconceivable in the inside churches because they read from a script.
There is never a script on the river with Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve never had my mind move so swiftly or so deeply as when we walk and talk together. I used to wonder why, but gave up. Of course, it might be nice to bottle and distribute it to others in need of such thinking. Is that what this writing is all about?
If you dive into a river, do you naturally find the thalweg?
What is the thalweg of my life? Shouldn’t I know the answer to that? Yes, I should. I will think hard on that question.
Do thalwegs change in a river?
Is anyone with me in my current thalweg? What about the future? Will I swim alone?
I sense dogs are supposed to be dog paddling with me in my thalweg. Bonnie and Clyde already are.
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