Niagara Sketches

Sunday afternoons along the lake, a low stone wall along the narrow sand strip, impression of recollection, a low retaining wall along the river, below the confluence of the strait and the lake, Sunday afternoons in a park along the water, a ragged line of men fishing, bait cans, pails, hooks, and long elastic lines, in and among the low, sleek ripples, current always running swiftly, a park then along the river-lake, on a Sunday afternoon in late spring, after the ice had gone and the shores were bare, imprecision of recollection, a Sunday afternoon in the summer when humidity lifted and a cool wind came in off the water, three men fishing and the desire to sit there with them, next to the tinny bait pail, on the rough concrete facing of the low rubble wall, hair cut short, dungarees and a red plaid, short sleeved shirt, the imprecision of recollection, there were two of us in the park, but the few surviving photos date from the early 1950s and it was still winter and there were four of us in the park and great ice floes beached against the wall, all the matt-blue and shiny green river glass locked against the coarse grainy sand.

It was down by the lake where a long jetty runs for a good mile, creating an inner channel or narrow basin. Neither lake nor river, really, but a confluence of waters. People walked out along the jetty, the sun dazzling, the wind always cool and capricious. It was probably Sunday morning-afternoon, just after church. Clean, pressed dress, hair curly, pinned back a bit, sturdy brown shoes, socks. Still gazing off towards a line of ducks barely visible on the horizon.

A river photo taken with an old Kodak. Crisp outline of land, water, trees. The atmosphere hazy—either from fog or coming snow, rising humidity or mist coming off the low limestone bluffs further to the south. Soft beige greys. Super-imposition of images, persistent, haunting. Explanations do not illuminate the locus, reason, or time/era. Displacements of place, shifting people. The river remains without interpretation or explanation. A Sunday afternoon along the water. A break in the routine of school or neighborhood games. Direct connection to something more vast, intimately known as a bird knows the air, intrinsically other as wind and rain. The education of one’s gaze—le regard—how does one learn to reflect or contemplate, contemplate or reflect—? Sunday afternoon by the water with nothing to do, in among the men fishing, bait pails and fish pails lined up, sometimes a bit behind the line. Snarls, hidden logs, robust fish. Always the wind, the ripples, the sun and clouds. Running in the park, strolling along the river. Looking, watching, expecting nothing, anticipating nothing. An hour, an hour and a half of idle time, loosely structured. A child doesn’t say much to strangers, and they don’t initiate conversations. Admiration for an especially beautiful catch or remorse at getting in the way, lingering too long at the tiny heap of supplies. “Ah!” or “excuse me” the only words usually proffered. The smell of the retaining wall, flash of shining scales, the rough feel of concrete, warm caught-water in the small depressions along the top. Behind? Perhaps the park, perhaps the persistent image of a long, rutted tall-grassy path leading to a frame-house. Displacements of time and place, although the main image remains fixed.




Andrea Moorhead





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