What a Stream Taught Me

     One clear Autumn day, in the long-ago country of my youth, I was walking through the forest, when I came to a small stream gurgling its way through thick vegetation, which prevented me from crossing it. Since my destination lay on the other side, I followed the stream along its course until I came to a place where a second little stream joined the first and formed a "Y."
     There, the added volume of water and dense vegetation compounded the challenge of my crossing because I had two streams to navigate above the "Y" and a larger one below. Standing in the warm sunshine, I contemplated my dilemma.
     At length, I noticed a small, mostly hidden delta in the arms of the "Y." Following a deer trail, as I was, I wondered why the deer hadn't crossed the stream at this juncture. Clearly, a deer could easily have jumped from the trail I was on to the delta, thence to the trail on the other side. Unfortunately, the impatience of youth caused me to leap, even as I pondered the question.
     The answer was unmercifully swift in coming. My feet no sooner touched the solid-looking, sandy surface then I was up to my chest in quicksand above and gooey muck below, with no sense of where the solid bottom might be. As often happens in life, however, a difficult circumstance has within it the seed of its own solution, if only we can see it.
     In this case, the same vegetation that had prevented me from crossing the stream, now came to my aid. Since both streams were clothed in an overhead net of vine maple, I could put the barrel of my rifle across several branches at once, grab the other end, and begin working my way to the surface. After two or three hours of slow, intensive labor, I finally freed myself from the clutching ooze.
     Once free, I stripped off my clothes, washed them, and put them back on. They dried as I continued along the larger stream until I found a place where the trail led to the other side. And so I learned never to step on a stream's delta that had not been trodden upon by an animal at least as large and heavy as a raccoon, otter, or beaver.
     Moreover, from that day to this, the delta reminds me that appearance is just that—an appearance, which may, or may not, indicate what lies unseen beneath the surface. To judge, therefore, especially in haste, the momentary appearances that comprise the never-ending story of life, is to invite a journey into the unrelenting depths of emotional quicksand, there to involuntarily confront what lies unresolved within the judgment—for in the end, all we really judge is ourselves.

© Chris Maser 2004. All rights reserved.

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