It is late autumn at the Falls of the Ohio and soon all the leaves will be gone having succumbed to the wind, rain, and frost. For now, there is still color and it is during this transitory moment within the season that the memories of past loved ones comes to my mind and heart. I was walking along the riverbank recently and thinking about my grandfather and so I created this story for him out of thanks, sticks, and river-worn Styrofoam!
Perhaps it’s the shimmer and play of light upon the water that helps those who have gone before to communicate with the living? I can picture him now, very tall and very thin and neatly dressed with his fancy bow-tie. Because he took an interest in me as a boy, I in return have never forgotten him. My grandfather was not a particular eloquent man, but as the saying goes and there is truth in this…actions do speak louder than words.
Grandpa or Opa as I sometimes called him loved to tend his small flower garden. In the heart of the old city this was how he kept his connection to the soil. And because his garden was tiny it was also precious and everything that happened in it took on added significance. When a new flower bloomed …that was a cause for celebration as were the times when some new never before seen bird would alight in the yard even for the briefest of moments. All these little events were full of meaning to my grandfather and now I see that I inherited this ability too. Finding wonder when life is at its most mundane is a true gift.
When I was a very small boy my Opa would put me upon his shoulders and give me a unique perspective on the world. He moved along the city’s canals so easily and I was able to take in all that was going on around me. I would describe him as being a patient person, but there were some things he found difficult to tolerate.
Perhaps at the top of his list was injustice. He had lived during the hard times of a world war when his city was occupied. He had witnessed and experienced how his fellow human beings could be callous and cruel to each other. When the war ended and prosperity returned, it bothered Grandpa to see how the very land itself was treated with little regard. He knew about the magic that could happen even in the smallest plot of dirt. To treat the ground as a garbage can is an injustice to the earth.
Our walks together were always learning opportunities and this was fun for me. Grandpa seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the living things around him. He said that life was so interesting that he needed to know about it, but that he was alright too when there were no answers. He also found contentment in the mystery of it all and that somehow it fit together and worked. His true position in life was balanced between the twin poles of knowing and not knowing. It was important to remain open to recognize and receive wisdom when it did come his way.
If my Grandfather could see what is happening with our treatment of the environment…I know it would upset him. Before the war (which was bad enough) there was also a world-wide depression. To get by and make ends meet, everything that could be reused and repurposed was. People even knew how to fix and repair things because they had to if they were going to have anything extra at all. Creativity and thrift were virtues because they were survival skills. Nothing was thrown away without careful consideration. Now economies are based on mass consumption and disposability and something else has been lost in the process.
Grandpa told me that if we didn’t take care of all our precious resources, then we were in danger of losing ourselves. The more we change the land, the more it changes us and that our ultimate fate is intertwined with what happens in the real world. Here on the banks of the Ohio River my Grandfather’s concerns have come back to me. Now I am a father and someday I too may become a grandparent. During my lifetime, I would like to feel that we can be reawakened to the needs of the planet so that we could build towards the most positive and healthy future possible.