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NYC Time Traveler

The Porpoise of Life

(—what is? as an earnest Eastern European grad school classmate once asked our philosophy professor.)

The river is wilder today, but there are no porpoises, no aquatic life of any kind to be seen from where I lean, at water’s edge. There are, however, the usual seagulls, the customary lone cormorant perched on his favorite sawed-off piece of ancient piling; there are a half-dozen ducks and a crew of Canada geese sharing the rickety remains of an abandoned rail depot in the distance. Closer to shore, pigeons patrol temporary patches of dank sand left by the day’s lowest tide. The rocks verging the water are alive (I happen to know, from years of close, quiet observation) with unsuspected rats. I have even watched one large, greasy-gray specimen swimming upstream adjacent to the shoreline. Crickets are trilling in the carefully cultivated, now-luxuriantly-overgrown wild grasses. Naturally, there are dogs of every variety being walked in every direction.

And there is a cat, the only representative of its kind still living in this recent extension of Riverside Park; it is a regally blue-gray creature that has survived several winters now. Though I scarcely ever see it, when I finally did again this past summer, I also discovered for the first time the cramped, camouflaged space under one of the new piers where it feeds, which is to say, where someone leaves it water (always) and food (sometimes.) I’m not as faithful as that (and I fear, too, that the secret patron may have some sort of proprietary interest in this particular feline); still, I bring leftovers for it when I have them and when I remember.

But I bring myself here, I come down to the river, as often as I can, whenever the weather even vaguely favors long walks and longer stops by the water. I don’t think about it much, if at all. It’s simply where I want to be, almost any early morning or midday or late afternoon; not coincidentally, it is where I experience the most intense sense of, I am so glad to be alive another day—I actually heard that in my head this morning, catching sight of the sun-glazed waves. The Hudson landscape, hardly edenic, yet decidedly unurban, is where I am most aware that I do love this life, no matter what.

 I come down to the river to be, to breath, more than to ponder, or to produce story ideas, solutions to dilemmas, plans for the future, whatever it is I’m supposed to be working on. Still, it is true that my mind, as well as my heart, feels its own fullness here, recaptures some of its playfulness, and even, at odd moments, persuades me it’s still got it, the powers I sometimes begin to despair of. Wandering my deliberately random, looping path, pausing in accustomed and unaccustomed places: the quotidian little river pilgrimage is perhaps the closest I come to anything like prayer, or a seeking after that mystical porpoise. As always, it remains elusive. Possibly it will appear, make itself known to me here, one fine day. Meanwhile, this is real and good and true enough: this will do, for me. This will do.


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