Jessica AllenFear, River, Winter


Jessica AllenFear, River, Winter
The river itself portrays humanity precisely, with its tortuous windings, its accumulation of driftwood, its unsuspected depths, and its crystalline shallows, singing in the Summer sun. Barriers may be built across its path, but they bring only power, as the conquering of an obstacle is always sure to do. Sometimes when the rocks and stone-clad hills loom large ahead, and eternity itself would be needed to carve a passage, there is an easy way around. The discovery of it makes the river sing with gladness and turns the murmurous deeps to living water, bright with ripples and foam.
— Myrtle Reed, Old Rose and Silver (1909)

The Susquehanna River has always been a presence in my life. My relationship with the river began the day I was born. Three days before I arrived in a hospital situated along the main flow, the third oldest river on Earth crested at 32.57 feet - fifteen feet above flood stage.

As a child I visited the River a handful of times, accompanying my dad and his friend on fishing excursions. I would sit in the boat asking questions about the river, fearing its depths might swallow me up because I could not swim. I once caught a large bass using the mini version of a popular tackle, the Hula-Popper. It remains the highlight of my days as a young angler. 

When I worked in the city as a young adult I viewed the River as an obstacle. The congestion I experienced navigating its associated highways, bridges and overpasses only served to create anxiety in me. At least I avoided becoming one of the unfortunates whose employer required her to park on the river's west shore; such a fate meant a year-round, all-weather schlep into the city via a walking bridge. My twenty-something dealings with the Susquehanna were not all bad. In the summer months the River afforded my friends and I the opportunity of leaving the confines of the city as we could walk to one of the many public picnic tables lining Front Street and enjoy dining al fresco.

I have been thinking a lot about the river. At present it is seemingly frozen. Beyond the blue slabs heaped onto the riverbanks, an opaque swath of white snakes between mountain ridges and river towns. The River appears motionless. For miles. But I know better.

If you have ever stood beside an icy river you understand. A river is never inoperative. It is in a constant state of fluctuation. Like the Comet Fantail goldfish I see swimming beneath the ice on my garden pond, the creatures of the river move beneath its frozen slabs. Furthermore, one can hear the frozen river. The sheets crack and melt, creak and slosh, as the river begins to thaw during the first mild days of winter. 

As I stood alongside the frozen Susquehanna this weekend I was reminded of the above quote, of the line, "The river itself portrays humanity precisely..." Indeed, I feel quite frozen at the moment - ineffectual. A river provides for those who depend upon it. Intrinsically. And I suppose like the river - concealing its attentions beneath its surface - I will thaw and discover, as Rachel Carson called them, "reserves of strength."

I must confess I hope there is, in fact, "an easy way around."


Jessica Allen explores the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband, Michael Allen, and their son, Benjamin. She shares her observations through words and pictures of everyday magic and beauty she sees in her world.