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17 Blinking Island (The Meaning of Change) vvv “Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current. No sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” —Marcus Aurelius Spring I am late for work and pedaling fast on my bike—past the old railroad tracks and the BMX bike course, pumping hard to make the small climb to the footbridge. I make it up the hill and pass the tree where I once flushed a sharp-shinned hawk. Zipping across the bridge, I look to the right, through the metal railing and out to the Marys River as it weaves into the Willamette. I lurch to a halt and focus on the water. What is that? A flat cap of land is sitting right in the middle of the confluence—an island! I grab the rail for balance and to get a better view. From here it looks like sand, smooth and unrippled. It is small and crescent-shaped, 18 Meander Scars tapering on the upstream end and bending to the river’s curve, like a peachy infant tucked against her mother. I’ve biked by here almost every day for the last couple of years and had never noticed the island before. Do islands just sprout? Later I would read that islands form in all kinds of ways, sometimes because of high water or at a confluence where the force of one river meets another. And others build up behind a blockage like a fallen log. Some last a few decades, others centuries, which in the scheme of a river is not a long time. However this island formed and however long it will stay, I marvel that something liquid can create land. And how wonderful to see the island come up in spring, when the world is so focused on newness— robins calling for mates and garter snakes sliding out from dark places. There are seasons in the river too. I wonder what the island will be like in summer when the water pulls back even farther. Maybe killdeer will lay eggs and willows will take root. Maybe it will grow and build a side channel. Maybe shrubs and trees will make a mad dash to colonize the new landform. I watch for another minute or two, smelling the sweet syrup of cottonwoods and listening to a song sparrow call from a place I can’t see. A light spring breeze tussles the trees and carries the song sparrow’s tweets and trills across the water. Then I get on my bike and pedal as fast as I can to work. Summer Every day I try to look at the island as I zoom past it on my bike, and every day it’s the same. Except it’s not. Thinking back to how it was in spring, I realize the island has grown. It has risen like leavening bread, spreading out into doughy folds of land. Has it really grown? Or is the water just receding? One afternoon I shove off in my kayak to visit the island, eager to see the side channel it has created. The familiar smell of wet dying things washes the air, but the river is distant and unfamiliar—swift and deliberate, with dark water hiding the world beneath the surface. Even 19 Blinking Island (The Meaning of Change) in July, summer feels like a jagged edge between seasons, unable to decide if it’s coming or going, staying for good or just passing through. At every turn, I flush some winged creature—a kingfisher that voices his annoyance with a clipped rattle. In the willows, a buzzard eating a decaying fish cuts into the air with saw-tooth wings. The seasons can bring swiftness or sluggishness. Sometimes current brings me to a place sooner than expected, and other times paddling full tilt won’t get me there soon enough. Time moves at a different pace on water than on land. Which is why I almost pass the island, sure that I wouldn’t get to it for another ten minutes. But ten minutes means something different on a river. This is river time. Up close, I see the island is not made of sand, but of stones the size of golf balls. On its shore, once-slick algae have hardened into a mucus crust. The rocks are not buff at...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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