by Tom Sims
Tom Sims covers the Tower District, Downtown Fresno, and Old Town Clovis in his monthly column Strolling the Town.
We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling!
Flow, river, flow. Flowing river, flow deeper, wider, faster, mightier. Flow.
And I wish, I wish, I wish it were so.
It was a walk.
A young couple was starting as I was ending. The dogs were excited.
But, in reality, they would be only a few hundred yards from stores, restaurants, government buildings, George Brown Fitness Center, and a major highway.
It is a river walk and it starts near where Nees and Palm converge in one major dead end for each major street.
Rivers do that to roads.
I walked along the river with anticipation and wide eyed wonder, hope, and optimism tempered by realistic, down-to-earth skepticism. Something amazing happened.
It was better than I thought it would be.
I had watched the river from above and from afar.
I had stepped near it in select places and assumed some things that I was sure must be true.
You will see the road. It is gated, but pedestrians are welcome. Start walking down the very urban path and little by little, it will seem less urban, wilder, and more remote.
I walked down the path where a hundred years before, only divers could have gone and over which swimmers and canoes would have traversed. I could walk down on dry land and down and down and down I descended.
And there, before my eyes, feet away from commerce and transportation, masses of humanity and seats of government was more than I expected.
There was a river … a pretty impressive river.
The San Joaquin is still meandering among us and defining space.
Why do I care?
I always loved rivers. They convey mystery. They carry life. They cover unexplored space. They carry objects from place to place. They define and divide space. They wash away more than they collect. They give and sustain life.
They change and are changed.
They name the space around them and they draw souls into their sphere of influence.
The San Joaquin meanders through our valley history as much as it meanders through our landscape. It is still wild, still vast, and still alive through it all.
It invites us to walk along the banks, to step into its flow, and to ride its current.
It is still moving.
Logs still fall in and change the course of the river. Little eddies bubble up around obstacles. The river is alive.
It actually runs. It runs!
The river narrows and widens, separates and converges. There is a flow and there is life in the river and along its banks.
There is also ponding and some of the ponding produces the life characteristic of stagnation.
There is trash, signs of urban reality and poverty. The river is a great hiding place for those whose entire lives are lived in the open and on the streets of the city. It is a refuge for people who find shelter along her banks and they move in and leave their trash. Where else are they going to put it?
Humanity has always left its mark and always will. It is part of the life of the river and the river, when left to heal, is more powerful than our ability to trash it.
It does need time and space to heal.
We are all, always, somewhere near a river of some sort. We are always leaving our things behind. We are always expecting someone to clean up or we just don’t care.
I suppose I could have bothered to pick something up.
So, along with the signs of plant life and river life are the symbols of human life.
Above those signs of humanity, nestled on what once were river banks, a few hundred yards away, is the affluence of homes on the bluffs.
As the walk continues, the river widens.
It widens more than I thought possible. It takes over the landscape.
I wonder what it was like 10 feet deeper … 20 … 30 … more!
This is a 40 minute walk, 10 miles from downtown Fresno and I am in the wild and overwhelmed with wonder!
Just when I think I will be enveloped in the flow of the river, trees intervene and bring me back to the solid ground of present consciousness.
You can see and hear duck families making their trek. They are good judges of the character of a river.
There is movement in the river and on the right conveyance, it would move me.
I could walk here often. Are you enjoying the trail?
Have you even left your chair?
There are weeds, but …
What is a weed?
No, there are no weeds on this trail, for everything was born here and will die here.
The folks in the houses along the bluffs look down from their windows and there is a view unlike mine. Yet, mine is a view unlike theirs.
If I were in the river, it would be yet another view.
If I were on the other side, it would be another.
If I were homeless here at night, I would be seeing an entirely different world.
It is time to head back up the hill. You can stay if you like, but I must go. I allocated only a short time, but I feel that I used it well.
There is more than one way back and I take the hardest. You can come along the steep trail with uncertain footing or stay on the main road.
Have you heard the news?
The San Joaquin no longer alive? Tell it to the ducks. Tell it to the fish. Tell it to the vegetation. Tell it to the insects.
Tell it to the homeless who camp beside her shores and litter her borders with contrasts.
Tell it to the canoers and kayakers.
Tell it to the naturalists and the painters.
Tell it to the young couple walking their dog.
Tell it to me.
I will be back to take in more of this living river. Come with me.
Let’s stroll on a river walk.