Rivers are roads

Jeff and Matt pause on the way down to the York River, June 2012

Jeff and Matt pause at an overlook on the York River, June 2012

“Rivers are roads that move.”Blaise Pascal

I’ve always been fascinated by maps; I could literally sit and study them for hours.  One of the first things I noticed as a child, when I would look at maps, is how the cities of America seemed to cluster along rivers and coasts.  There’s a logical reason for that, of course, but it’s one that is often lost on us in these days of interstate highways and air travel.  There was a time when rivers were the primary roads.

Even when we didn’t live on the coasts, we were always near rivers, and I’ve enjoyed them all.  Yet I seldom think of them as roads to discovery, preferring instead to sit in one place and watch them flow by.  But sometimes I daydream about how much fun it would be to have a boat and go traveling by water, stopping at places along the way and making discoveries I might miss on land.

Our York home sits near several rivers — the York, the James, the Elizabeth — as well as Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Every time I go to the Yorktown waterfront, I enjoy it so much I tell myself I’m going to start visiting more often, if only for an hour or so each week, but when I’m home I’m busy with tasks and seldom make the time.

I think one thing I find so appealing about rivers is, even if I’m not traveling down them, other people are.  Seeing the boats come and go, and the water flowing into the horizon, out of sight, reminds me of opportunities, possibilities, undiscovered wonders.  I’ve heard people say “the road is calling” and perhaps rivers, as roads, call us in the same way.

Do you live near a river?  If so, do you ever use it as a road for travel?

One year ago today:

Open every door


  1. Sheila

    Good Saturday morning, Julia. When we moved to this coastal area in 1983 we lived on the Intracoastal Waterway. Even then, it was more of a HIGHWAY than a road, so often taking “sailors” to Florida. We loved watching the many yachts navigate south in the Fall and north in the Spring. We traveled in both directions (not on a yacht), usually day trips, and it was so beautiful. Some of that particular stretch of waterway is natural, often rivers or saltwater inlets. It also has portions that are man made to help navigating. Loved your post “Open Every Door” from one year ago. Remembering Pasha and Salty! 🙂

    • Good morning Sheila, just reading your descriptions whets my appetite to explore the waterways, about which I know so little. The very limited times I have spent in sailboats, canoes and my Daddy’s motorboat have always been so fun and exciting. Things really do look different from the water, I think, just as they do from the air. One thing I find interesting is how sounds can echo from far away. All the senses seem magnified on the water.

      Since I’m not a good swimmer, I was always too terrified of sailing on the San Francisco Bay, notoriously freezing (and some teasing friends used to tell me, full of sharks, which I never knew whether to believe or not). There’s a good reason Alcatraz was considered impossible for escapes! But I still found the idea of sailing on the bay appealing.

      Kenichi Horie’s story became one of my most fascinating interests during those years. He was truly the Charles Lindbergh of the water, but for some reason, he has gotten relatively little attention (which may have been a blessing for him). To examine his tiny boat “The Mermaid” at the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, and to realize he crossed the PACIFIC OCEAN all alone in it, is stunning. Someday I’m going to go on Amazon to find and buy a copy of his book Kodoku, which I checked out from the library and read while we lived in northern California. He continued to sail for many years, and perhaps he is still sailing.

      Pasha and Salty will always be part of our lives! Pasha LOVED boating, by the way. Schipperkes, a Belgian breed, were supposedly bred down in size from Belgian shepherd dogs, for the purpose of working on canal boats as ratters and guard dogs. Pasha’s personality certainly fits that lore.

  2. Like you I love water. My grandparents had a home near the CO river and it was always fun to go play in or fish in. I wondered what was up the river or down around the bend. I like the way a river moves all the time. Did you know the Grand Canyon was carved by river. Amazing power. Travel by water has always seemed a luxury to me that was done by the rich but I guess Huck Finn did it on a raft. 🙂

    • Why yes Amy, rivers belong to everybody but especially to those who aren’t wealthy – just listen to this wonderful song. I have always told Jeff, this song brings back such happy memories of our years in Memphis. I can tell you spent too much time in Europe and not enough in the South!!! 🙂 But we can fix that someday.

  3. I’ve always gravitated to the water myself Julia and I loved reading about your relation to rivers and the feelings you get being a witness to the comings and goings there. As small kids, our grandpa farmed near a river. We’d walk along with our Dad and he’d talk about what they’d do there as kids. Sometimes we’d find little treasures that’d landed near the shore as the water continued by without it. Living downtown allows us to be walking distance to the Edmonton River Valley. The North Saskatchewan runs through our city and offers peace, solitude and nature in the heart of downtown. We’ve really enjoyed that part of downtown life. Last summer we took an afternoon to travel by riverboat and enjoy the views back to downtown from the river which was really fun. It’s a paddleboat that runs seasonally. There’s a rich history in Edmonton surrounding the early years and the river. I’m such a history hound and I’m sure York must have lot’s of great stories to tell about life in the early years around the water. Your cities history would go back so much farther than ours too.

    • I think I’ve seen some photos of your downtown river on your blog, haven’t I? These places can add so much to a downtown area. San Antonio, Texas has a river running through it like that and the Riverwalk is a big tourist favorite there. Even our little town of Vacaville, CA had a Creekwalk and we loved it. Your recorded history in Edmonton might not go back to the 1600’s but I’m guessing there were native Americans there long before that. Because of my Daddy’s family history which says he is one-fourth Chiricahua, my brother had Dad’s DNA analyzed which confirmed the family stories, but also showed that part of his lineage is Athabaskan which is apparently common for the Apache nations. So who knows, maybe I have an ancient relative up there from hundreds of years ago! 😀

  4. maryellen davis

    Well Julia, if you ever get to Orange Beach, Alabama we’ll take you for a boat ride! My husband and I love to explore the inland waterways between Mobile Bay and Pensacola Bay. There is a geographical oddity we pass through. A place where Florida is North of Alabama! Innerarity Point, Florida is North of Ono Island, Alabama. Check out the Fla/Ala State line on your map. How Ono Island got its name is another story….. Thank you for your beautiful and thought-filled blog. I visit frequently. MaryEllen

    Sent from my iPad


    • Mary Ellen, thanks so much for this tip, I will definitely have to check into that! One of my ambitions is to drive the Natchez Trace all the way down and then explore the gulf from there. (I’ve been on the northern part of the Natchez Trace many times, and I love it!) So I will have to look up that area. It reminds me of how we go through Georgia again after passing through Chattanooga, Tennessee – As a Georgia native, I tend to agree with those who say Chattanooga is actually part of Georgia. 🙂 Thanks so much for being here, I’m glad you like the blog and I appreciate your visits here!

  5. Sam

    We had friends in FL. who lived on the Intracoastal and we often spent hours on the weekends watching the yachts navigate South as Shelia mentioned . In FL. it is known as ” the ditch “. We have a much smaller boat which we enjoyed taking out for the sunsets which were so beautiful. We later moved to a condo where we had a balcony on the oceanfront and another balcony which faced the Intracoastal. Needless to say, I spent many hours surrounded by the water and nature. So peaceful and quiet. I hope Jeff will continue to feel well with his chemo and keeping each of you in our prayers.

    • Thanks so much Sam, reading all these lovely descriptions of waterways has me really anxious to get out in a boat sometime soon. It would be even more wonderful to have a balcony looking out over the water. Sounds like your condo was similar to Sheila’s home in terms of where it was situated, with water on both sides! Thanks so much for your prayers, we have been so blessed by the prayers and good wishes of so many here.

  6. Ann

    Two separate comments here. First, it seems like many of the places I’ve lived have been on a river but these rivers have long since lost their usefulness as places for transportation. (For example, Macon, Ga, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbia SC), but you can see how the rivers were vital to the towns’ development.
    My husband and I took a river cruise on the Seine from Paris to Normandy. We stopped at Giverny and Rouen, what a wonderful way to see France.

    • Ann, what a dream vacation! Amy and I took a boat trip down the Rhine in Germany which was wonderful, but I think a cruise on the Seine would be the ultimate. I’ve always wanted to go to Giverny. Some of the photos I’ve seen from there are so stunning! Yes, it’s a bit sad to think that rivers are not used much anymore, although living near a major port such as Norfolk really reminds me that big ships are still very active. As with the railroads which were so crucial in the history of this country, the rivers seem to have faded as a means of transportation, except for recreational purposes. But I hope that the towns will keep the history alive. Memphis used to have a really good museum and riverfront park. We haven’t been there for years, but I hope it’s still as nice as it once was.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, I wasn’t familiar with Kenichi Horie but after going to the link, I’m impressed. I’m so sure there are many happy memories of Mr. Carlyle’s motorboat. We live close to a marina and it’s fun to go there, late afternoon, in the summer usually, and watch the sport fishing boats come into the docks with their “catch of the day”! Ditto about Pasha and Salty!

    • Sheila, I have some videos of Pasha in Daddy’s boat that I’ll have to upload sometime. I’ll send you a link when I do. He loved riding in the very front and I would be so scared he would go over the side, he would want to sit as high up as he could so we would hold tightly to his leash. Do you ever see anyone bringing in the “big game” fish? Jeff’s boss in Hawaii was an enthusiastic Marlin fisherman and he got a HUGE one while we lived there. Amazing, the size of those things!

  8. We’re just an hour away from both San Francisco and Santa Cruz so plenty of opportunities to experience the water. Like you, I’m a poor swimmer and afraid of the water, yet still find time to enjoy it in different ways. I married a guy who loves to sail and owned a sailboat for many years, built from a kit he helped his father build.

    What did cross my mind this past week, and your post brought it home, is how much of my own city I still don’t know. My boys are old enough now that I can venture out on my own if need by…it’s hard to reset the idea of always being here for them. Does that make sense?

    • Alys, it totally makes sense. I’m equal parts home body and wanderer, but I always hated to leave Jeff, even before he got sick, but he’s not as fond of traveling as I am. He likes a few small trips or one big trip a year, but I am so eager to see everything that I am happy to be on the go. My friend Kathy finally helped me understand that my aversion to leaving Jeff or Matt is really sort of like separation anxiety. The first time I ever flew out to California to see my friend without Jeff (in 1983) I got on that plane and bawled like a baby. So I can’t blame it on having kids, although it did get worse after they were born. Having said that, I’ve made my peace with needing to do much of my traveling without Jeff and Matt, since both of them need to be home (for different reasons) much more than I do. Even during my years in northern California, my day trips into the city or elsewhere (Napa, Sacramento or wherever) would usually be planned to get me home by the time our sons were home from school. So I think you are right to want to be home, just plan for the hours they are gone and realize the time will come when you have more time without them than with them – a blessing and a curse! 🙂

      • You are so right, Julia. Time already feels excelerated as they’ll both be in high school this fall (one senior, one freshman). Like you I love to travel, and since I was single for many years, I just traveled alone or with friends. The year I turned 30 I quit my job, found a friend to stay in my apartment to care for my two kitties, and traveled through Europe with a backpack for two months. It was the best experience of my life.

        My husband also likes to travel, but our oldest son really struggles, so we eventually stopped trying to make it work. It was just too hard on him. The last two summers I traveled with my younger son and his friend. This summer I’m suggesting Mike do the same.

        I can’t wait to meet you one day. We’ll be able to talk for hours.

        • Alys, I know we will have so much to talk about. IEP meetings alone could take days! 🙂 But we will stick to more pleasant topics – MOSTLY! I think it will be good if Mike wants to take you up on the suggestion. Before Jeff got sick he would have several business meetings a year that gave him a little getaway, and I find that my quick trips always make me appreciate my own home and family even more. One of the best ways to survive the “slings and arrows” is to stay flexible and find new ways to make things work. Traveling through Europe for two months would be a dream! My friend Ellis did that before college but I’ve never been there for more than 2 weeks at a time, and usually only for one.

          • LOL. Yes, the dreaded IEP meetings. We could write a book, eh?

            I’ve often thought that travel would open people up in a way that they can’t get when they stay in one small community their entire life. Seeing how the other half lives, eats, speaks, moves, makes you appreciate how vast and interesting the world is. Struggling with a second language in another country, I believe, helps us become more tolerant of others. I’ve often thought a year of service after high school for everyone would be a great idea. Not military service per se, but service in shelters, or building homes with Habitat for Humanity, etc. It would give all young people a great taste of the real world, and might even shape who they become.

            • Alys, we COULD write a book but I would end up getting sued for character defamation (although I have never yet shredded some of the hateful emails I found in records review, and still have many of the taped meetings with all their snarky comments, so I could use truth as a defense). But I need to move on past all that, and I’m slowly forgetting the nightmare it often was — and trying to remember that there WERE many heroes as well as villains in the stories.

              I totally agree with you about community service. The Catholic high school where I was a librarian had a requirement of substantial community service as part of the graduation requirements, which I thought was great. Many colleges do emphasize community service and overseas learning opportunities, much more so than when I was in school. In high school Drew went to Guyana to do medical mission work three summers in a row, and it changed him forever. I know many young people who are doing similar things, and it gives me great hope for the future.

              I can’t say enough about the wonderful students from the College of William and Mary, who do so much for their peers with disabilities. The clubs there host an annual carnival every March where the students buddy up one on one with an adult peer who has intellectual disability, and they have a fabulous day together. Through the year they also do various other activities such as Bingo in their student center. One night when I went to pick Matt up there, it was like a dream come true; the room was full of dozens (probably over 100) young people playing Bingo, and Matt and his friends with disabilities were so widely scattered in the crowd that it took me a minute to find him among all the “typical” college students. It was a joy to see, one I will never forget.

              • Some to the experiences you describe are reminiscent of what we felt when our son started Pine Hill. It was remarkable to finally see him make friends and enjoy himself socially. I’m so glad Matt had that experience, too.

                There are certainly ‘heroes’ in our stories, but the others can make your life so difficult, so fraught with tension, anger and despair. It is appalling what parents put up with in the interest of trying to educate a child. We have a long, long, long way to go.

                Thanks for your always, thoughtful comments, Julia. xox

                • Thanks for understanding. It’s like a sort of radar; we can tell when other parents have “been there,” and it’s very hard for people to understand how distressing and downright cruel it can feel, until they have experienced it. Since I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I don’t regret that. I do know that I couldn’t have survived those years with my sanity (mostly) intact, unless I had found other parents who were a source of strength and support for me times without number. I had two friends who were so faithful to attend IEP meetings with me in VA that one school official sarcastically referred to them as “my staff.” 🙂 Another parent in California, who was a real “legal eagle” and practically had the CFR memorized, often came to the IEP meetings with me. She was treated by the local school board as my attorney, even though she was just my friend. I got to one meeting to find they had brought their lawyer, and I asked why? They said they considered my friend to be the equivalent of my attorney (!!!!) – the friend (whose name I will refrain from mentioning) said to me later “It’s like they can’t imagine two people being friends, only business associates.” I don’t blame them for being afraid of her, though. I would not want to face her in court. She was fierce in standing up for any student who was being messed over by the system. I am so thankful to have had her support and encouragement all those years!

                  • You are so right, Julia. In addition to our son getting what he needed, I connected with parents that got it. We formed a small PTA, put on a carnival for the kids, did art projects. We were small but mighty.

                    I’m glad your friend provided caring, intelligent and fierce support. Isn’t it sad that we have to team up with professional or friends, just to get what our children deserve in the first place. What exhausting years those were.

                    • Yes, “exhausting” is the perfect word for it. I’m glad those years are over, but they are a very large part of who I am today. No regrets, really.

  9. I love rivers. We used to live near the Thames and I spent very many happy hours during my childhood in small boats on the river. Best of all was going up the local backwater and the just drifting down watching the wildlife.

    • I have such romantic ideas about the Thames, I can’t imagine how fun it must be living near it. I always thought of it as a London river, but it’s so long and goes so many other interesting places. I remember seeing it on the banks of Hampton Court Palace in the movie “A Man for All Seasons” and then many years later being surprised to see the river at Oxford was also the Thames. One could see a good bit of England just boating all the way down that river.

      • Have you ever read “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome, Julia. If not, I would recommend it. Written in 1889 it is comic story about a camping trip along the Thames. Of course, I know a lot of the places mentioned in it. And, of course, Wind in the Willows is set on the Thames at Pangbourne, where my mother used to live (she was acquainted with Kenneth Graham & his mother).

        • WOW that is amazing! I love The Wind in the Willows and I know my Daddy loved it when he was a child too (he told me about it when I was a child and that’s why I read it). In fact you may have seen where I quoted from it on my blog a little over a year ago. As you may know, there’s a wonderful ride at Disney called “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” which was always a favorite of mine. I had not heard of that book but thanks for telling me about it, I know I will love it. I just looked it up online and it looks like a lot of fun!

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