Stakes In The River

21 December 2022  •  Filed under

The river surrounds me.

I waded into its waters long ago, wandering the serpentine current that cuts through the landscape. With each step, the river changes, and becomes something different than it was before. I change with it; I also have a current, and it stubbornly carves its own path, bending and twisting and flowing in shape and intensity. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

Some steps are placid and cool; others plunge me deep into the rapids and threaten to carry me far away. But I’ve kept my foothold. All along my journey, I carry my bundle of stakes, driving them into the riverbed where intensity has found me. Love. Pain. Happiness. Regret. Awe. Loss. Gratitude. I tether myself to these markers, these moments that have defined me as the river pushes me relentlessly forward, and looking back at them makes the way clearer.

The oldest tethers have long since snapped. The passage of time is merciless, exacting a heavy toll on their strength. I can still see some of these stakes behind me, but they are dark, and crooked. There are a few mementos that I carry with me, tokens by which to close my eyes and imagine my way back these untethered markers. I revisit the place, but the intensity is almost always gone. I am now but an observer, grateful to remember but unable to inhabit the emotions. The loss is bittersweet at best, grievous at worst.

I know that this is the nature of the river, and that my own current erodes the tethers as well. No matter what I do, those markers will never be as near or as clear as they once were. Every moment risks being lost in the depths, a trail of submerged stakes in my wake. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

Midway down the river, I feel a new intensity come upon me. It is tears, and sorrow, and a heaviness that I don’t want to carry. My hand curls around my bundle of stakes, yet I’m tempted to pull away. Maybe it’s better to leave this place unmarked, dead in my memory, and free from tethers. Just take a step away. And then one more.

But my own current has seen this before, and I am dissuaded. As the stake is driven deeper and deeper, I recall others like it. Some are still tethered, and others only live on in a memento, but I hold them all dearly. Along with all the happier moments, these markers have shaped my current. As the stake finds its purchase in the rocky riverbed, I remain still for a season, holding it tight and feeling this moment—expansive, humbling, heartbreaking, and unrelenting. My hands are cold, knuckles white. This is intensity.

I’m further down the river now. The stake is still clear in the breaking light, but I can already feel the tether thinning. This is the nature of the river. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

As I take another step downriver, I’m grateful for the time that the tether was strongest, and wish that it could always remain that way. I will miss it when it snaps. Even at its darkest, I chose to hold tight and cherish the intensity. Currents were reshaped. That’s what intensity does. That’s what the current wants. I don’t want to forget.

The memento in my hand is still shiny and new, and I make a promise to myself as the river rushes under me: I will do everything in my power to remember this. I know that one day these feelings will fade, or be forgotten completely, and join those darkened, crooked stakes upriver. I’ve done all I can. Surrendering to intensity forges the strongest tethers, and the brightest mementos. I’ll hold them as long as I can. The river is taking me away.

This is who I am. The river surrounds me. I am shaped by the stakes in the river.

© Jared Christensen

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