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  • Brady Stroh

Tethered to a River


According to the calendar it was the beginning of the dead of winter. But 1954 was ushered in by an unusually mild New Year Day in the Central Susquehanna Valley. A brisk southeast wind pushed the daytime temperature to a spring like 50 degrees — twelve degrees above normal. NBC was airing the first ever color broadcast of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Mid-state Pennsylvania German families were sitting down to their good luck dinner of pork and sauerkraut. And Mel Allen and Tom Harmon barked out the play-by-play commentary at the "Granddaddy" of college football games — Michigan State edged out UCLA, 28-20 in the Rose Bowl that year.

The roses were still just shades of gray on Max and Ginny's Motorola TV and the big game was little more than a reminder that another year had begun. Max was taking advantage of the Friday holiday to continue his fine tuning of the new duplex house they had moved into the year before on Eighth Street in Selinsgrove. Ginny and her mother, Daisy Pearl, were burning up nervous energy in the second floor nursery.

Late that afternoon, Ginny grabbed her suitcase and waddled to the waiting blue Plymouth that Max would drive across the Susquehanna River to Sunbury Community Hospital. At 1:25 am on Saturday, January 2, I took my first breath. Four days later the blue Plymouth took the Stroh family back across to their river-town home.

At four days old, I had already crossed the Susquehanna River twice — once on the inside, trying to kick and push my way out; and once on the outside, wondering why I was in such a hurry. It didn't occur to me at the time — actually nothing occurred to me that I can remember — that those first two crossings may have ignited both a bond and a bondage. They may have tethered me to the river for life.

Of course, biologically, nothing actually occurred that fused me to the river — at least I don't think it did. But on that short, westward trip back across the Susquehanna, long before the inevitable series of religious rites would infuse me with the Holy Spirit, and days after I escaped the secure, warm, and watery home of the womb, I do believe the soul of the river pierced my being and took up residence like an alien egg.

Just as the origin of the name Susquehanna remains veiled in uncertainty, so does the question of her spirit. There is no rational argument for the spirit of a river. But, absent some wild Kantian proof to the contrary, the Susquehanna has existed for many millions of years. Its length has varied, its course has wandered, and its volume has waxed and waned countless times. As a channel of drainage from Cooperstown to Cape Charles and offshore to the canyons, it most assuredly is real.

Science is just beginning to reveal a profoundly complex biological connectedness among and within all forms of life, especially — or should I say, very specially — in the human species. We can accept this consciousness as nothing more than a physio-electro-chemical phenomena, or we can allow ourselves to absorb it as something greater, like essence or spirit. For me it is a hopeful and joyful confluence of faith and reason. For me it says, yes, the life created, sustained, and attenuated by the river emanates an energy to which I am tethered — not pantheistically, but as a unity.

In these “Tethered to a River ” writings I relate memorable and significant experiences I've had that have imprinted the river on my soul. My source river is the Susquehanna and its flooded lower basin that we call the Chesapeake estuary. But my river extends beyond the Susquehanna-Chesapeake system to all the inter-connected surface waters of the earth. So while many of the reflections are local, others are more global. The essences of each brook and creek, pond and lake, river and bay, are unique facets of our planetary water world that nourish our infinite rivers of thought.

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