I grew up on a river. Muddy waters, catfish, and trot-lines are part of my early years. My pawpaw would take us fishing almost every day. He loved to fish, and he passed that on to my brother. I like to fish, but not everyday. Still, we were poor, happy but poor, and fishing is how we kept food on the table. Summer we fished, winter we hunted.
To this day, I love fish and game. There is no greater feeling than to bring home your meal after you had a successful day of fishing or hunting. Sure, you have to clean it and cook it, but in my opinion, it’s better for you.
Interestingly enough, when I am stressed I go to the river. The calming nature of running water eases my mind. As a young man, I would sit and listen. My grandfather often told me, “you can hear God’s voice in the water and on the leaves when the wind blows.”
I don’t know about all that, but I do find peace when I sit and listen. There may be a lesson in that bit of redneck wisdom. As a boy, me, my brother and a few friends nearly drowned in Old Man Rayburn’s pond. It was a life changing experience. Adrenaline flooded my body as I struggled against the darkness.
As I aged, I quit going to the river. I joined the Army, and moved around the world. The insanity of pre-deployment training kept me from fishing and spending time on the river. The only experience I had on the river, while in the Army, was when I nearly drowned in the Euphrates.
After retiring, I would walk through the Fountain Nature Park and look at the lakes. Swans and swallows, cranes and bullfrogs, all had a place in the wetlands. The silence would sometimes be broken by a turtle sliding off a log which jutted out of the murky waters.
Lost, I wandered through this wetland looking for some semblance of normal. The closest I came to finding it was when I walked through the wetlands. I felt close to my dad and my grandfather when I sat at the lake. My mind would slow down just enough for me to catch a glimpse of the man I used to be.
Then when I left the park, the darkness rushed back in. I would struggle until I made it back to the wetlands. My depression and anxiety would hammer at me and I would try to drown it in a bottle of Jameson. My once a week trip to the wetlands became multiple times to combat the darkness.
Unable or unwilling to pray aloud, I would sit on a bench and silently ask God to either deliver me from the madness or kill me. I wanted to scream. To confess my sins and shout out all I had done in the name of justice. Instead, I screamed within and prayed for a solution to my issues.
The dark waters calmed me, but I would find myself thinking about hanging upside down in the Humvee, water seeping into the cab. Or drowning in Old Man Rayburn’s pond. How I struggled to rise above the murky water. As I struggled with depression, I felt like I was drowning in the murky waters.
Of all the memories I possess, the most vivid from my childhood is Old Man Rayburn’s pond. My mom had told me and my brother to not go swimming. We didn’t listen. “Okay! Be back later, mom!” We fished for a bit, the sun hot on our shoulders. We peeled off our shirts and shoes and dove in. Halfway across the pond, I got a cramp. I went under, my legs and arms felt like lead. I broke the water and the person next to me shoved me under. Frantic, I kicked and came up again. “Aaah-” I went back under. As I sank toward the bottom of the pond, I saw the sun break through the black water. “Kick, pull, kick, pull.” Finally, my foot hit solid terrain.
I clawed my way to the bank, and my brother and friends were right on my tail. None of us drowned and we fell back on the grass. Too often in life, I find myself struggling against the dark, praying for a beam of hope.
My days of walking through the wetlands at Fountain Nature Park are over, but I still find peace in the croak of bullfrogs. In the chirp of swallows, in the gush of water, the rhythm of nature purges the darkness from my heart. At least, until the next time the darkness threatens to drown me.