Saturday, March 04, 2006

the river why

One of my favorite authors is David James Duncan, a Northwesterner (I think he's from Washington state). I just finished reading "The River Why" a few days ago, and I've also read "The Brothers K" (novel) and "River Teeth" (short stories). Currently my husband and I are reading aloud "My Story as Told by Water," short stories that I think are autobiographical.

I really appreciate Duncan, first of all because his stories are set in the Northwest of the USA, which right now is especially great since I'm living in the Northeast and miss all the trees and mountains and space where there aren't people.... Duncan is also an excellent author. He creates characters of amazing depth. He makes me laugh, and sometimes I even laugh and cry simultaneously (like when we were flying home from England and we were reading a really sad part of "The Brothers K" [I was reading over my husband's shoulder], and we were sitting in the front row of coach, and there was a flight attendent sitting facing us, and we were reading a really sad part of the book and I was crying profusely and smiling through my tears sometimes. I think the flight attendent thought we were really strange. =)

Anyway, so Duncan writes about people who like fishing and baseball, two things I couldn't really care less about, but he connects these things with spirituality and intense seeking in such innovative and poignant ways that it draws me in even though I otherwise wouldn't read about fishing and baseball. Through these hobbies, which some of the characters love with passion akin to religion, we learn about the characters, their interrelationships with each other, and their inner hopes and struggles. OK, I'm not doing a very good job of explaining, but trust me, it's amazing stuff.

So they're set on the rivers and streams of Oregon and Washington, so I thought I'd post a picture of the Columbia River Gorge, which separates these two states, to show you the kind of amazing scenery we're talking about. (I didn't take this picture.) Pictured is the Columbia River from the Oregon side, and the building is Crown Point Lookout.

Here's an equally beautiful picture in words from "The River Why" to give you a taste, then you should go read it. The main character, Gus, is getting philosophical food for thought from his friend Titus.

"Fishermen should be the easiest of men to convince to commence the search for the soul, because fishing is nothing but the pursuit of the elusive. Fish invisible to laymen like me are visible to anglers like you by a hundred subtle signs. How can you be so sagacious and patient in seeking fish, and so hasty and thick as to write off your soul because you can't see it?"

Again his question hit me where I lived: I pictured rivers--December rivers, mist-shrouded and cold--and thigh deep in the long glides stood fishermen who'd arisen before dawn....There they stood in the first gray light, in rain, wind, snowfall or frost; silent, patient,casting and casting again, retrieving nothing yet never questioning the possibility of bright steelhead hidden beneath the green slicks; numb-fingered, empty-bellied, aching-backed they stood, hatted or hooded like rabbis or monks, grumbling but vigilant, willing to pay hard penance for the mere chance of a sudden, subtle strike. What was a fisherman but an untransmuted seeker? And how much longer must be the wait, how much greater the skill, how much more infinite the patience and intense the vigilance in the search for the gift men called the soul? "Titus," I said, "I've been walking around for years with my metaphysical fly stuck in my ear!"

So here are some queries for you:

1. What do you have infinite patience for, what are you willing to wait and suffer for, that is similar to Gus's fishing? Does this draw you closer to the Divine? Can you use it as a helpful metaphor for "fishing" for your soul?

2. How do you respond to the thought that we can have that same kind of patience, endurance and anticipation for seeking after our soul and whatever our soul's connected to in the spiritual realm?

3. Are you seeking God with the same infinite patience and sincere conviction that God is there that you would have if you were fishing for fish?

I'm not going to answer these questions now, but let you mull them over. Maybe I'll post my own thoughts tomorrow or maybe just leave them as queries to ponder. Feel free to post your own responses.


Aimee said...

Hi Cherice! I found your blog!

I'm thinking about your excellent questions, but I wanted to say I love David James Duncan too! I read the Brothers K a year ago and it was so amazing. He writes so beautifully.

I read The River Why while at Fox (for an Ed Higgins class). I remember reading a good portion aloud to my roommates because I would be laughing or gasping and they wanted to know what I was reading. =)

I really enjoyed My Story as Told by Water as well. What an amazing book.

DJD should be required reading. =)

cherice said...

OK, you reminded me of something, Aimee. Here's a confession: I also read "The River Why" for Higgins' class at Fox and I wrote a paper on it, but I really didn't like it--seriously didn't get it--thought it was all about fishing and boring stuff like that...

But then everyone was saying how awesome it was, and I read "Brothers K" and stuff, so I figured I'd missed something and read it again, and of course it was brilliant! Funny how a few years can change your perspective so much.

Aimee said...

Indeed! And I don't always have good experiences with books I'm "forced" to read in school - but for some reason this one clicked. Three possible reasons: I used to go fishing with my grandpa so I'm a bit familiar with the fishing stuff. DJD is a northwest guy so he writes about Portland and surrounding areas so it's cool to recognize names and places. And, I'm SURE Gus moved to Tillamook! I'm sure I recognized some of the places he talked about in this no-name place. =)