Madison Monday: Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise

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Street ending in the river

Lots of exciting things going on in Madison today. My lovely husband bought me a mandolin for my birthday at Crawdaddy Music here downtown. I also sampled from among several dangling fiddles at Crawdaddy. The beautiful thing about fiddles is that the older they are, the better they sound. These fiddles are hanging from a rack by strings at Crawdaddy, and to look at them, if you’re like me and are not a fiddle expert, you probably wouldn’t be that impressed. We’re conditioned to think old things, not particularly good things. I picked up one banged up looking fiddle, gave it a whirl and said to my husband, “I like this one.” Well, I guess I have good taste. It was a $2600 old French fiddle. Oh, to play an old fiddle and then go back to a brand new one is a hard, hard thing, folks.

I also visited my friend Leticia and saw the piece she and her husband are working on for an upcoming exhibit in Philadelphia. It includes drawings and poetry her husband typed with his old typewriters onto old player piano rolls they found in the building they bought. That’s recycling.

Water covering a light pole

And then there’s the weather. Rain, rain and more rain. Last Monday was rainy day Madison, and since then, rain is pretty much what we’ve had. I like rain, and especially rain as we’re starting to move into spring. But the river, as you can see, is rather high.

When the river’s up, it’s as if it’s saying to us folks in the town, “Hey, look at me! Look! Look! Watch me! Watch me or else!” Kind of like a small child tugging on her parent’s sleeve. So I thought it might be a good moment to write a short list of what I love about the river.

1. All of the streets that run north/south in Madison on the south side of Main St. terminate at the river. I remember the first time I realized this as I was walking around and looked down a street at the river. It looks as if you just drove down the street, you’d end up in the river, and that did happen one year at Regatta (hence, the concrete barriers we now use at festivals on the river). I like the visual picture of streets that end in water; it’s like being able to look over the edge of the flat earth.

2. Barges look cool up close, where they chug along and churn the water. You wouldn’t think it, but they make a noise, especially when you’re up close. But even from farther away. Our local heating and air conditioning guy told us a story about a blind lady downtown who kept hearing what she thought was a rattle in her heating system. Eventually they figured out that she was laying on her couch hearing the vibrations from barges going by.

A barge going by

Barges look cool from way up on the point at Hanover College or the end of Riverview Drive, too, where you can see them barely moving along the curves in the river here. One question I asked myself shortly after moving downtown…how fast does a barge go? Can you out-walk it on the streets? It looks pretty slow. No, you cannot out-walk it. You can out-drive it. I haven’t tried out-biking it yet, but I feel certain some local children have.

When the river is high, if you drive along Vaughn Drive, the street which runs parallel and closest to the river, you are on about the same level as the barge, and that’s a weird feeling.

3. My grandparents had a farm on the river upstream in Kentucky, so I grew up with this river. I had arguments with a friend in Pittsburgh about whether the river was mine or not. I feel just because a river starts in your city does not give you ownership. Silly argument, but I do feel oddly possessive about the river. It’s part of the landscape of my childhood and with me now again as an adult. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a placist, and a river seems to me to be a special kind of place. A river is a place in constant motion but the carrier of a great deal of meaning and history.

Our river walk

4. Water makes people happy. Annie Dillard says, “Live water heals memories.” In his study of what makes a good public space, William H. Whyte put water high on his list. A fountain, a pool, it doesn’t matter. We’re drawn to water. I like small creeks, but I also love the feeling of standing next to the Ohio, which is so broad here that you can feel its power just standing there. If I sit on a bench next to the river, I can feel some part of myself letting go. The river has been and still is a way to get somewhere, and also a force of destruction. But it’s more than that, too.

Other folks have said it much better, but it’s a rare day to walk along our beautiful river walk in Madison and not find folks gathered there. In warm weather, folks bring lawn chairs and cluster them around the benches. In all weather, some folks park their cars and just look out. Some folks walk right down to the water, risking a geese attack. Some folks are content to stay on the sidewalk. But the river draws folks.

That’s a short list of what I love about the river. What’s your favorite body of water and what do you love about it?

P.S.  I didn’t mention the beautiful Madison-Milton bridge, soon to be rennovated, but click here to check out the live bridgecam.

P.P.S.  For your viewing enjoyment, a brief clip of a barge coming up the river.  Note the sound of sea gulls in the background.  I don’t know how or why sea gulls make it all the way to southern Indiana, but I guess they just get carried away following the river.

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Comments

  1. That flooding looks a little dangerous!

    My favorite body of water is the Caribbean Sea. I love looking out at the horizon where the sky meets the sea–sometimes I feel it's mesmerizing enough to stare at for hours. I love the myriad shades of blue and green and way the looks on white sand beaches, black sand beaches, and every color in between. I love the rhythm and musicality of the language when spoken by Caribbean locals, no matter what the island. I love the heat. The humidity. The way I can breathe freely and relax there like nowhere else on earth–part of that is a metaphorical breathing easy, but the larger, more prosaic part, is I have no allergy problems when down there.

  2. That flooding looks a little dangerous!

    My favorite body of water is the Caribbean Sea. I love looking out at the horizon where the sky meets the sea–sometimes I feel it's mesmerizing enough to stare at for hours. I love the myriad shades of blue and green and way the looks on white sand beaches, black sand beaches, and every color in between. I love the rhythm and musicality of the language when spoken by Caribbean locals, no matter what the island. I love the heat. The humidity. The way I can breathe freely and relax there like nowhere else on earth–part of that is a metaphorical breathing easy, but the larger, more prosaic part, is I have no allergy problems when down there.

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