River TeethWritten by Stepper McCrery
If I were to stand boldly before you and with great and slightly unnerving earnestness state, “You have a story somewhere inside you that is important and powerful and would like very much to be told,” would you believe me?
I read James Duncan’s short story “River Teeth” for a class at University, and the haunting visual has stayed with me ever since.
Duncan wrote, “When an ancient streamside conifer falls, finally washed or blown from its riverbank down into the water, a complex process of disintegration begins. The fallen tree becomes a naked log, the log begins to lead a kind of afterlife in the river, and this afterlife is, in some ways, a greater benefit to the river than was the original life of the tree.
“There are, however, parts of every drowned tree that refuse to become part of this cycle. There is, in every log, a series of cross-grained, pitch-hardened masses where long-lost branches once joined the tree’s trunk. ‘Knots’, they’re called, in a piece of lumber. But in the bed of a river, after the parent log has broken down and vanished, these stubborn masses take on a very different appearance, and so perhaps deserve a different name. ‘River Teeth’ is what we called them as kids.”
Duncan’s point is that a human life, especially in the ebb and flow of memory, also carry these River Teeth; events, people, stories that remain bright and unbroken when most of what surrounds them have faded away.
If we’re lucky, some of the River Tooth stories from our own family’s histories have been shepherded into our stream, and we carry them along, bright and unbroken and true, lending to the shape of our own forming rivers as we go, waiting for us to carefully steer them into the waters of the next generation.
And if we’re really, really lucky…some of us recognize some of our own River Teeth, brightly riding the currents of our memory and begging to be told.
Some may think, “Oh, well that’s not me. None of my stories are as compelling as that.” But these people would be wrong. Everyone has bright, unbroken moments. The trick – and the gift – is to look for them, recognize them, fish them from the river to turn them over in our hands to get the real feel for them, and then – in the telling of them – to set them free.
So my challenge to you is this: find one of your own River Teeth. There is a moment that shines brightly in your memory. It may have already come to you, or it may take a while to find it, but it’s there. Fish it out. Turn it over in your hands. And tell it.
Write it down on a loose piece of paper.
Call up your best friend.
Flag down the mailman!
Gracious, email it to me! I’d love to hear it!
It doesn’t matter in the first telling how you tell it – only that you do.
Stepper grew up in the desert, but is a child of the rain. She lost her heart to Seattle (both to the place and to the boy who grew up there). She loves to write and draw, and used to get in trouble for doodling all over her homework. She graduated with a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Utah State University. She loves to sing, play the violin and guitar, and is learning the mandolin. She bakes a mean spice cake with pinoche icing, hates caramel, and has a real thing for old keys. But her very most favorite thing in the whole world is her cute husband and three amazing kids.
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