Each leaf that fell in the stream landed as a stroke of color from a paint brush lands on canvas, covering the brownish muddied water with random red, orange and brown hues, while we spoke in hushed tones, outside the circle of students that were there to learn about the river.
“Do you know which kids can’t have their photos taken today?” I asked him. Some parents don’t want their kids photos on social media, so I needed to be careful not to have them in the group photos showing students gathered around the educator on the river. He checked with the other chaperone in the group and they both agreed – there weren’t any kids in this group that fell into that category.
“In fact, I’m sure most of our kids’ parents would want their kids’ photos on the internet. They don’t think about the danger.” I nodded and smiled. “Thanks, makes my job easier.” I explained that I was there training and would be taking photos, too. The students were from an inner city Catholic school. Some of them had never been to a river, or a park.
“Perfect way to end the week, as I prepare to celebrate my 64th birthday.”
“It’s my birthday today!” I exclaimed.
“You a Libra?”
“Right on the edge.”
“Ah, yes, almost a Virgo, huh? Good…I’m a Libra too. Birthday’s next Monday.”
A pause and then, “I almost didn’t make it past 3 months”, he said quietly, looking away.
“That right?” I moved in closer. My interest gave him the confidence he needed to look at me once again.
“Yep, I was adopted from my grandmother, who was taking care of me, but couldn’t anymore.”
He paused for a second, but then kept going.
“My mom was an unwed teenager and sh-she couldn’t do it. My grandmother went and got me before I died. I wasn’t doing well, wasn’t eating. But she couldn’t care for me either. Friends of hers found out what was going on and they came. They came and got me. I was 3 months old.”
He kept going, a bit more earnestly, figuring he had told me the worst of it.
“When I was 7, the woman I knew as my mom, who had adopted me and raised me – she died. My daddy re-married when I was 8 and I got a new mom. She was a mom to me the rest of my life. Never thought of her as a step-mom, she was just ‘mom’. She passed away in 2005. I was still serving in the military at the time in Alaska”
I looked at the colored leaves hitting the water and noticed some of them fluttering down on the banks, not quite making it in the water.
I looked at him and said quietly, “When I was 3 months old, I was adopted, too.”
Sinuosity is a measurement used to define the degree to which a river or stream meanders or bends. Forty-seven years of meandering led me to stand ankle deep in the cool waters of the Olentangy, face-to-face with a former military man who counsels high school students about where they plan to spend their meandering days. The sense of being caught in an inexplicable world of similar circumstance caught us both off guard, like it does when you see an old friend on a street corner far away from your hometown.
We lingered for a moment before we followed the students back for the session’s close, letting the magic of this random encounter settle for a moment or two. Fall was in the air. A gust of wind raced through an opening in the woods and blew those leaves off the bank right into that river.