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

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good Morning, Julia! I probably told you that I grew up living one-vacant-lot away from the Mississippi River. My good friend, Gailie, lived three miles upstream, directly on the river. Her bedroom had a lovely big picture window looking right out over the river, and their back yard was so narrow that it didn’t take much imagination to picture oneself on a houseboat, or imagine the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
    In a very real way, the Mississippi was a road leading from Gailie’s house to mine (not so much the other direction, for schoolgirls paddling three miles against the current. It could be done by keeping near the shore, but why, when we had Daddies that would gladly haul a canoe on top of the car?).
    I’m sure those many summer days shaped who we have become. There’s a lot of confidence a girl can build, in learning to steer her own canoe.

    • Susan, if you ever had told me about your childhood on the mighty Mississippi, I have forgotten it until now. But that’s the sort of thing I would not tend to forget…except now, in my sixties, as time is teaching me! Wow, what a gift! And yes, I would think that such a river (as with all geography, really) would help to shape those who grow up near it. I had just enough experience in canoes to learn how fun they could be. Lucky you! Maybe we should put a Mississippi river cruise on our bucket list. Driving the lovely Natchez Trace Parkway would be a sort of parallel inland journey of the lower Mississippi. I have been down only about a third of the Trace, from where it begins near Jeff’s birthplace and childhood home, down through north Alabama. It’s a favorite drive for me (I normally dislike driving) and I hope someday to make the entire trip. Either way would get us to the Mississippi River Delta, and that too is something I’ve never seen firsthand, unless you count brief visits to New Orleans. See, more travels to take, if only in your imagination!

      • I’d be delighted to travel that route! I’m my case, I could almost day “travel that route again” except that I was about seven when my parents took us on a drive from Lake Itasca (headwaters of the Mississippi) to the Gulf of Mexico. I have only very vague memories of the trip. I remember being amazed by Southern dialect, and I remember stepping on a piece of glass at the beach at the Gulf, and immediately getting salt water in the cut, and screaming because it’s never felt a pain like that before! I thought I’d been bitten by something poisonous!

        • I had a similar experience in Jamaica — and you’re right, it can be unexpectedly painful (also quite bloody and therefore scary). I’m glad you survived it and I’m delighted that you remember that thick Delta dialect. (You do know there are many different Southern accents? and that a Southerner can distinguish among them quite readily, as I imagine northeasterners and other regional natives can do with their own variations.)

  2. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Still enjoying your daily posts, but haven’t taken time to reply very often. I apologize for that. I’ve been so preoccupied with the mundane lately. Our recovery from hurricane Sally is a painfully slow process. I’m experiencing frustrations the likes of which I haven’t encountered in years. But, I remain patient and cordial as I work with the contractor on rebuilding my home.
    Your sentiments are always well conveyed, often leaving me amused, amazed, or pensive. As it is, my time management hasn’t permitted much for “letter writing”, if you will. Yet, I see I have a kindred spirit, again, when it comes to maps. I can sit for hours and “travel” with an atlas, or an “app”. Not sure when my fascination with maps began, but in later years, I’ve been the recipient of “maps” for birthday gifts.
    My river is quite small, where I’m located, but it empties into the bay, then the Gulf. I’ve lived on the river for 22 years and Sally was the first hurricane to push water high enough to flood us. As much as we’ve enjoyed “our spot”, we will move to higher ground in the near future. I’m not ready to go through another flood.
    Have a great Presidents Day!

    • Hi Chris, no apologies needed! Wow, I had not realized you had so much damage from Sally. I’m sure it will be bittersweet to relocate, but I can certainly understand. I wish you the best as you deal with the remodel (what a headache!) and please never feel any pressure, here or elsewhere, to check in with updates when your time is so stretched.

      When we moved to York County, where the aforementioned rivers and waterways create seemingly endless waterfront area through countless small tributaries, Jeff made a firm declaration: “I want to buy a place as far from the water as possible.” Though that still amounts only to a mile or so as the crow flies, it’s easy to forget how close we are to the water until the gulls fly over or I dig up yet more oyster shells in the back of our lot near the creek. Even with that distance, we had one post-hurricane time when the entire (very large) back yard was flooded, and even a bit of our flooring in the front of the house got damp. It’s definitely no fun and we immediately took out flood insurance from that point on, though it was not yet required for our lot. Though I would have found the idea of a waterfront home appealing, I’m very grateful now that Jeff insisted we NOT invest in one.

      Yes, maps are wonderful and for me, quite useful. I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so the maps (along with huge geographical landmarks such as oceans and rivers) help to keep me oriented. Though Jeff literally hated maps, preferring to go with his well-developed inner compass, our older son loves them even more than I do. When he first moved to Atlanta he covered the entire wall of his second bedroom with a HUGE map of Atlanta that included pretty much every street in the entire metro area. He studied it and referred to it every time he had to go somewhere, and soon developed a much better understanding of the city than I had after growing up there. A love of maps is a practical pleasure!

      Good luck with everything, Chris. I’m so sorry y’all are having to endure this particular challenge, and I wish you the best as you seek “higher ground” or at least, drier ground! 😀

  3. Lydia E Gama

    A funny story about maps, Julia. My oldest son and my youngest daughter, single at the time, lived in the same house. They are both teachers so they were busy all the time with preparing lesson plans, grading and meetings, meetings, meetings. Their free time was spent taking the dogs to the mountains in North Georgia and enjoying the outdoors. The only thing they had on their walls were maps. So, when my son’s future wife came the first time to visit, she thought, “they really love Geography.” When she told me this story, I laughed so hard! Now, she has that house decorated with framed pictures, beautiful Bible verses, and she decorates for the Holidays. She has learned since that they had no time or inclination to spend time decorating. I love maps and I bought a big piece puzzle of the US for my granddaughter. We spent wonderful moments putting it together and she has learned a lot about the states, because each piece has some information about that particular state. Have a wonderful day. I continue praying for you and Matt.

    • Lydia, thank you for sharing that funny story and especially thanks for the prayers. I wonder whether your son’s future wife was a bit nervous wondering whether he would want wall-to-wall maps in the home they would share. 😀 Still, I bet those maps proved useful while they were there.

      Over the years Matt has had several puzzles that were maps of the USA or the world, and he too learned a lot from them. By the time they had to learn their state capitals in school, he already knew many of them. I imagine that he, like me, has at least a somewhat better idea of abstracts such as relative size, location, etc. of the geographic aspects that we can’t see up close.

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