Oakland’s Waterfront Takes Center Stage at PortFest 2003
Oleta Adams to Star at PortFest 2003
Grammy-Winning Oakland Interfaith Choir on PortFest 2003
Bay Crossings Journal
Bay Crossings Poetry
Freeway Service Patrol Logs 1 Million Assists
Wine Festival by the Bay
How Do Bus Drivers Feel About Golden Gate’s Financial Problems?
Paving the Way for Buses – The Great GM Streetcar Conspiracy
Port of Call: Cayenne, French Guyana
Opening of Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Changing of the Guard at San Francisco’s Last Shipyard
The Port Of Oakland Needs Your Help!
Taste of Oakland
East Bay French-American School To Host Annual "La Place Du Marche"
What the AC Transit Bus Driver Knows
The Iraq war reader
Judge Orders Carnival Cruise Line to Stop Illegal Dumping
On the Oakland Waterfront, Seafarers Club Breaks New Ground
Year of the Salmon!
WTA: For Whom the Bridge Tolls
New Ferry Building Sunday Garden Market Opening May 4th
San Francisco Bay
Vermeer Chocolate Martini
Oakland Arts Focus
Music Calendar - May 2003
In appreciation: David Clark
Water Transit Authority  WTA

Bay CrossingsJournal

The Final Run

By Bill Coolidge

We heaved up and over countless logs, helter skelter across the river. We heard the steady churning wail of the chain saws as we paddled our beat-up aluminum canoes down the Neuse River. The four of us had often taken a Saturday afternoon to flow down the Neuse until we arrived at the highway bridge, US-264. We’d dream, lean back, sip some of our Almaden Rhine jug wine, splash each other in the river when it got really hot. This Saturday run was to be our last one.

On Monday, the chainsaws would come to river’s edge and clearcut a swath on both sides, making ready for a lake, the Falls of the Neuse. Upstream a few miles, the cement trucks would make an unending line for days to build a levy and dam. This circuitous water path along the northern outskirts of Raleigh would be lost forever.

Roxy was in the front of my canoe. Bob and Ellen paddled ahead of us, more business-like, not given to whacking paddles against the surface of the river, sliding sidewise, laughing. Roxy had on white cotton short shorts, tan flip-flops, a blue blouse, the top two buttons opened. But it was her dark, short, curly hair that excited me. No, maybe it was her smile, slowly curving upward, a smirk, a tease, eyes glistening. I dreamed of melting in her arms, my hands lost in her hair, my fingers breaching the dividing line between shorts and thigh.

This wasn’t my first trip down a river about to be forgotten, lost. For years I had paddled the Haw River as it rolled over granite strewn boulders in the piedmont of North Carolina. The Haw curved between small islands heading southeast until it met up with the New Hope and tumbled into the Deep and Rocky Rivers, forming the Cape Fear. That was before the man-made Jordan Lake was proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Before they flooded that farmland, eliminating a portion of the river, I purchased an old log cabin for one dollar and moved it stick by stick to some high ground, some twenty miles upstream, a mile south of the Haw. I still remember the valley; Hugh Stone and his family, who farmed there, raised cows, built barns and homesteads, their livelihood, family cemetery are memories now, submerged into a new lake.

The summer sun was swamping moisture on the few oaks remaining along the Neuse, our brows sweaty, our lips and tongues dry from too much wine, too little water. This was to be our salute, a requiem for a portion of a grand river soon to be flooded.

Up the long hill, we pushed and pulled our canoes. On the ridge, we looked back, imaging what we had seen of the urban wilderness, soon to be given over to the claims of recreation and housing developments. I also feared that this free time of splashing and laughing with Roxy was also coming to an end.

Roxy’s face was still bright, eager for more adventure as we stood panting, looking at the remnants of the old mill site on the south side of the bridge. Her husband Bob, with furrowed eyebrows, kept looking at his watch. He had a 5:00 p.m. tennis match at the club. He was late. Roxy paused in silence, doing some reckoning about our last voyage, as if there was something more we could do, some ritual to signify our last passage. I sniffed the familiar blend of muck, fertile water, a sexual scent claiming my imagination. Next to me, my wife Ellen stood, waiting, her face calm.

Bob stood 6’2," blue jeans, blue docksiders, brown hair on his chest peaking out at the rim of his T-shirt. Solid body in contrast to my lean one. I was a long-distance runner, Van biked, ran, played tennis, and handball. Nothing to excess. He’d make jokes about me running 26 miles. "Trying to run away from something? Slow down, enjoy yourself." Van was a salesman for a Swedish firm. Wildly successful. Me, I was an Episcopal priest, gearing up for a building program I dreaded. I wasn’t very happy with my work as my little town was succumbing to big city blues, traffic jams, farmland and forests shredded, meeting the goals of a new subdivision a week.

Roxy, button nose, a crafty, sly smile on her face, glanced at me. I was conflicted. I wanted to pursue that look and I was afraid. I was closeted in a marriage devoid since its beginning of longing, lust, and sexual adventure. At our wedding years earlier I had wanted safety, now I didn’t.

Later, the four of us would go out to eat. We’d meet them at their house, Bob would drive, put some rock and roll on the tape. He and Ellen would sing along and wiggle to the music. Roxy and I would lounge in the back of his gray BMW, with our "ditch" cups filled with wine, giggling, whispering, touching feet, sometimes our fingers moved along the palm of the other’s hands. That was exquisite torture, the touch of warmth and arousal without a way to release it.

By October, the lake was two feet deep. At the end of winter, it was six feet deep. By spring, kayaks, canoes, and jon boats were skimming along the lakeshore. Bob was transferred to Boston. Roxy’s father died and she took over the family business and bought a beach cottage along the coast. We moved out to an abandoned farm on a ridge above a white water river where I canoed by myself.

We met once more, and as it turned out, for the final time. Roxy and Bob invited us to their beach cottage for a week in July. I couldn’t wait, repeating in my mind, "A whole week together. What could happen?"

The sun slithered down toward the Inland Waterway. The brisk northern wind created a spray which dashed laterally across the tips of the waves. We sat on the deck, sipping, sharing catch-up stories, but something had shifted. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time, true. But something had changed.

We talked about our lives as four individuals, as if we were now separated, not couples sharing mutual excitement. Our stories focused on work, kids, aspirations, adjustments, and compromises. I went to bed sullen, quiet. Ellen went to sleep quickly. I listened to the waves, feeling bereft, a melancholia overcame me. I thought about Roxy. She kissed me on the cheek when we arrived, then turned away, preparing dinner. Bob seemed distant, tired, drained. The streams of our lives had separated over time. The walls of our lives seemed too thick to penetrate and soften, no longer conjoining.

When I think about the three of them, I think of canoes, wine, laughter, sun, and shade alternating as the canoes floated downstream. Days were long, life seemed unending when we were in our mid-thirties. But now in our mid-forties, we seemed serious, more responsible, less adventurous. Ellen and I never talked about Roxy, about Bob, about our attractions.

Ellen and I didn’t speak of the lack of passion between us either. We lived together, parented together, and became best friends. But in the end, the silent bridge built over a quarter of century of marriage was too wide to traverse.

Maybe I need to revise that picture of two canoes and four people. Maybe that falling apart, that separating wasn’t just the fault of my eternal restlessness, the search for something more. Maybe each of us had a secret that we were unable to divulge. Maybe it wasn’t just me that carried on a secret life. We had lived our lives never sharing any caution or fear about the future. We acted as if there was no storm on the horizon, no chilling air coming in from the north.

In the end, there was no drama, no accusations, no sobbing or promises of doing better. Ellen and I just slid away from each other, like a lake drained by a slow leak. Finally drying up at the end of a summer’s drought, our life revealed itself. Nothing more to go on.

I’ve often thought about going to the head of the Neuse and canoeing down to the edge of the dam. But it wouldn’t be the same. The lake is too long, too wide, and I have no memory of the lake, just the river. There is nothing to return to.

I heard Ellen doesn’t buy Almaden Rhine by the gallon anymore. Nor drink for that matter. I heard Bob and Roxy moved back to Raleigh and their house got caught up in the wind and rain of Hurricane Fran and they moved. I heard someone bought my farmhouse along the river, complete with an old dented aluminum canoe. I heard all that years ago. But just the other day, I drove on the 264 bridge over the river Neuse and it all came back to me. The lazy paddling, the sweat dripping down Roxy’s blue blouse, the excitement, the edginess of a life seeking something more.

Loss carves a meandering path in my body. I don’t want to go back twenty years and recapture that vitality. What I want is this. To accept the loss of a river and of Bob, Roxy, and Ellen, and yet to embrace what those years gave me: a wonder and delight in the adventuresome path of the erotic. How it continues to swirl and swell, bowl me over, making me cry at a tundra swan winging south, a dolphin and her young cavorting down the creek, the excitement of bedding down my beloved, whom I found along another river ten years later, along the docks of Portland admiring some old timey wooden canoes.

A couple of years ago, my sweetheart and I put our green Old Town canoe on top of our VW camper and went off to pursue some new rivers, ones in the wilderness, the Ausable, the New, the Manistee, which are protected forever. She paddles in front, I smile quietly, splash a little, lifted by a wild impatience of knowing when we stop for the night, we’ll giggle, frolic, celebrate, and share the erotic streams of our life.