The Dao of the Stream

a short story

From the small suspension bridge he watched the river, bulging at its banks — busy, and violent from the rain. The water coursed through the narrow path that it had carved from the earth over the thousands of years prior.

He had just stepped outside the bar and made his way over to this creek… for he thought that he would rather be alone, surrounded by nothing, than be surrounded by others, alone. His eyes glazed over as he watched the muddy water, raging against the naked tree roots grasping for their banks. He watched as a tree fell into the river. It floated away. After years of life, it simply dropped into the river and floated away.

He watched the tree as it drifted downstream and wondered what it would be like — to float away. He noticed the rain dripping down his brow, falling into the river. In this way, he thought that he, too, was falling, dripping down into the river.

He closed his eyes and listened to the rushing waters. His wet jacket clung to his arms and the bridge as he leaned against its guardrails.

As the raindrops pelted his soggy hair, and the river shouted out its persistent gentle roar, he felt time dripping down his face. Flowing continuously beneath his feet. Everything was moving, but nothing was changing — except for the passing tree. The river itself was stoic on its downstream path.

Neither the rain nor the river had intended for anything to happen to the tree. And if he had arrived at the river any earlier or later, the tree would have never been noticed.

He wondered, then, what it would be like to float downstream, without anyone noticing. Perhaps the river might have the answer. And so, he gazed into its coursing waters, to see what the river thought.

The river showed a constancy of chaos, while at the same time displaying a soothing, unyielding motion. He searched within its waves for its intent. He searched among the ripples for a face.

His older brother and he had always pointed out faces in clouds and in rocks and in tree trunks. And now he was standing on this small suspension bridge in the rain, just as they might have done — back in the forest, behind their house, staring down at their creek… searching for a face.

But lost in the pulsing cascades was any hint of intent. Neither did the river smile, nor did it condemn, smirk, laugh, or hate. The river did not want its tree, nor did it want him. It wanted for nothing. It simply was.

And so, he retreated from the bridge. He walked back to his car, sat down, and picked up his phone. He wanted to see if his brother was around. He wanted to find a face.