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The forward flow of life

Kate Kuehl

"The Mountains"

Nikkie Cargill

The Wapsipinicon River is a place full of life. Wispy winds blow through ancient greenery while the sound of water splashing along the banks provides an undertone for the drone of dragonflies hovering above its surface. All walks of life rely on the Wapsi, whether it’s for something as simple as a drink from its body or as important as its habitat. Others use the river as a means of transportation, using it as a way to get from point A to point B. It is one of many highways of nature, ever-flowing in a forward motion. 

Ever since I was a young child, the thought of water has swum around in my mind every day without fail. Whether it was splashing around in murky, muddy puddles as a toddler or swimming in the clear blue waters of places far away as I’ve gotten older, water has been as important to me as the air I breathe. But something about the tributary five miles south of my home captured my attention, and it never seemed to let it go. 

It was a quiet afternoon in the middle of April. I had stayed up far too late the night before, listening to the sounds of the world around me and the chatter of the people whom I care about most. By the time my head hit the soft, white pillows, it had already become morning according to the large clock on the wall, whose ticking lulled me into a deep sleep. When I awoke, I expected that day to be like any other I had experienced up until that point, uneventful and simple. But it was on this day that my perspective of life changed. 

When I emerged from my cozy cabin into the early afternoon heat at roughly one in the afternoon, I saw a singular kayaker placing his watercraft into the fast rapids of the river. He was very unassuming, sporting a baby blue shirt and black shorts along with his ballcap turned back even though the hot sun was beating down. Once he clambered into the kayak with his cooler and paddle, I immediately assumed he would start traversing down the river. However, this unknown man had other plans. Instead of beginning his course downward, the nose of his kayak pointed in the opposite direction as the man attempted to paddle upriver. He struggled against the current, almost feverishly, trying to make headway. 

I don’t know what persuaded the man to fight the ever-flowing water. I’m not certain if he wanted the feeling of accomplishment for beating the current or if he wanted to see if it was even feasible. But no matter what the reason was for him, it affected me more than it did him. Watching this mysterious man battle the river was like watching a mouse fighting a lion; the result was inevitable. Eventually, the man gave up and began to float downstream, visibly exhausted from the battle he lost. However, I stood in my place, in awe at the display of courage the man exuded. It showed me that once something in life passes you by, it is nearly impossible to get back to it.

Through winding courses or the straight and narrow, the river moves forward. Through shallow places and flooding flows, the river moves forward. Whether they are the tiniest of streams or the grandest of seas, they still flow forward. I think that we should all be like the river, ever-changing, yet always advancing—let your past stay in the past. There is nothing there except for the eerie whispers of desire for the things you wish you did, the guilt of things you wish you hadn’t done, and the hums of contentment from the things you achieved. Looking back into the past doesn’t change the outcomes of what’s occurred. If you spend your time peering into the mirror of the past, you will miss countless future opportunities that are constantly being thrown your way. Life is continuously flowing forward, and just like the river, we should too. 

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