Mary Beth Writes

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

My husband looked at me with that kind of look one only really perfects after plenteous years of marriage. Maybe you know it yourself. It's where one could be sarcastic but chooses discretion instead. 

We slid our canoe into the Root just as the sun slipped below the horizon. A last blush of pink edged the trees on the far side of the river like satin binding on a blanket. We climbed into our boat, splashed our paddles into the water, and shoved off.

I wonder if the slosh of paddling oars is similar to what babies hear to before they are born. That splashing rhythm feels like a wordless lullaby we used to know.

From that first moment on the dark river, it was a different world. Trees cast black shadows. Shadows hid fallen tree snags and floating branches.

There's a place not too far above Horlick Dam that's mostly a sandbar of watery muck.  My husband and I know this because this summer we took a friend on her first canoe ride, blithely promising her that the Root River offers the tamest of rides.

We promptly got so stuck in that muck that BOTH my husband and I had to climb out (wearing shoes and jeans), to haul our canoe through the mud. Remember that scene in "African Queen" where Spencer Tracy pulls his boat and Kate Hepburn through a leech-infested river? It was like that only without the leeches. Though we weren't really sure at the time there were no leeches -- which is how you can tell you're having a real adventure and are not at an amusement park.

However, now that we know exactly where that place is, we always paddle around it. Especially after dark.

 We floated along sweeping our flashlights along the banks, peering to see animal life. I thought I saw perky little ears and was just about to mention that -- when a deafening roar rose up all around us. 

Geese do not like flashlight beams in their eyes and we'd just swept ours over several hundred of the feathery fellows. Man, do they squawk LOUD! They're hard to see as their dark bodies take off against the dark trees, but they sound like someone starting a locomotive in your hat. That was the most realistic stress test I've had in a while. 

I soon took over the task of being the canoe headlight, letting my husband become the sole paddler. It was simply too dark and too interesting to go as fast as a canoe goes when two people paddle. It's not often in modern life that one canoe with two paddles is too fast.

We began to see eyes. Bright eyes, silent and curious, like pairs of birthday candles along the riverbank.  Did you know that even if the critter hides behind a branch the light from a flashlight still makes its eyes reflect in the water?

A while later there was another enormous heart-thumper of a splash.

"Did someone just throw a baby in the river?"

We think what we encountered were a few tail-smacking beavers. We'd hear a huge splash, spin our flashlights around -- and see nothing but ripples in the water. Then another huge kerplunk would splash on the other side of us. Either those beavers were real worrywarts or we met some guys who were playing around at making fools of humans. Eight times those loud splashes reverberated along the dark river. More boisterous kerthunks followed us while as we turned around to return to civilization.

We were laughing so hard by then we'd forgotten how dark the world was. I glanced up. The moon was rising full and silver over the black lace of trees.


Just then, very, very high in the starry sky, a vee of geese appeared. The lights of our world lit their pale undercarriages, making them look like a distant constellation of stars winging its way across the cold universe.

Is there a reason why people don't canoe at night?

Well, it's cold and shivery and scary out there. Certainly, don't do it unless and until you know a river very well. But if you take precautions? 

A river at night is a place of wonder.





Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.


This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


When History isn't in Museums

I stayed twice for several days with a Maya family in Guatemala’s altiplano. This adventure happened during my second day of my second stay with them.

Senor Jorge, the 50ish father of the family, asked if I would like to take a walk to see a Mayan antiquity. It took a minute to understand his question since my high school Spanish was a long time ago.

Yes, I would!

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent afterlife aging Alaska animals anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books Boxing Day boy scout Bread breakfast BreakfastClub BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China cholesterol Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community confluence consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote crime CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering deer democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Dickens Didion disasterprep distraction dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola Grief groceries Guadalupe Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HotWeather HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len lies Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens MineralPoint Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples pizza poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations religion Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites sci-fi ScottSimon sculpture scuppernong Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet St. Louis staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress SUBSTACK Survival swan swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone Zebra
Ad Promotion