Paddling with Dave

“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” – Buddha

Clown car lawyers grin into cyclops cameras, their brutal intent disguised as entertainment. They rule the world, do these greed-heads. They worship money and power and never have enough of either.

Crazy Dave dances like a sugar bear, wild-eyed, laughing and goofy. He wonders if he’s dreaming, and hopes not. Arms lifted, legs akimbo, he taps, shuffles, jives – celebrates. The band is atmospheric and funky – majestic. Full of love, he shines a glorious, insane light.

I don my kayak to paddle along the creek into Rifle Cut. A tall, immaculate osprey chirps from a dead cypress. His messy nest tops a tree a few feet away, but there is no sign of chicks. A sun-worshiping ‘gator slides into the brown water and raises scarcely a ripple. Ibis, heron and wood stork dot the trees and wade in the boundary between water and shore gulping fish, skinks, and snakes.

Long ago, Big Henry and his enslaved cousins dug Rifle Cut one mile long and straight as an arrow to shortcut the Altamaha River to Darien Creek. They dug the muck and roots with pick and shovel in stunning heat, beset by insects and ‘gators. They made it narrow, then wider and deeper until it was fifty feet wide and 8 feet deep. They removed the cofferdams and let the water flow – enough to navigate a riverboat or a timber raft – saving four miles of silted river passage to the sawmills in Darien. The money men applauded and puffed their cigars. No one knows who or how many died.

spider orchid.jpg

Flowers. Wild blue swamp iris and white spider-lily fill the still air with their sweet dusky odor. Palmetto, tupelo, myrtle, and cypress elbow their way to the sun. Impenetrable flora stretches away on either bank of the cut. I back-paddle to hold my position in the slight current, breathe deep, absorb flower magic, listen to Dave’s jazzy music playing to the marsh and its ghosts.

The band jams and soars – violin, guitar and sax play off each other, sing together backed by stratospheric drumming. They blaze with the rhythm of souls lit by star fire. The music melds with the river, the flowers, trees, and sunshine. In a sublime moment I know – KNOW – love and joy.


The Altamaha fought back against the un-natural cut. Year after year she deposited a pernicious shoal of up-country clay at its mouth, blocked its use. Industrious men tried to keep it dredged until 1948, and only surrendered when roaring log trucks moved the tons of slaughtered trees faster and cheaper. At last, the industrious abandoned the river.

I nose my kayak out of the cut into the wide, great, immortal river. It is slow-moving and empty, a quarter mile wide. Just upstream I can make out Lewis Creek – up which lies hidden a priceless grove of ancient cypress saved from the sawmill by impassable swamp and forest. It is a vast, still, and holy place worthy of worship.

the river

Dave sings and dances, the band plays, the sun shines, the river rolls. I vibrate and hum, joyful and exuberant in spite of the clowns.

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