By Betty Miller Conway
We always like to think of our lives on the farm as idyllic. And usually it is. The chickens crow every morning, the seasons pass, and we are grateful for every beautiful and God-given day on this place. But we can’t always live on the sunny side of life. Troubles come: old horses die, children grow up and move away, and people get old, hurt, or sick. Sometimes the floods invade, or the bitter winds of winter, and we are reminded of just how fragile and precious life is. This is the beauty and the tragedy woven into to all of our lives.
A few years ago, when life seemed especially burdensome, a dear friend advised me to just imagine throwing my troubles over the waterfall on the mountainside here and letting the cascading water carry them away. Although I was skeptical, I tried it. To my surprise, it worked! Somehow just thinking of that clear, cold water taking my worries away made them seem less weighty. It is a strategy that I still revert to from time to time, especially in the early morning hours when I can’t sleep. In my mind’s eye, I put my troubles into a small plastic bottle and screw the top on tightly. Then I trudge up the mountain to our Upper Falls, and I throw them over.
For some reason, I imagine my troubles with wide round faces and over-sized blue eyes. Despite the fact that they weigh me down, they are surprisingly lighthearted at the start of their journey. They giggle with glee as they scoot down the steep rock face and disappear into the eddies below. They resurface and wave at me, bobbing and swirling as they go over the Lower Falls and into the calmer waters that flow through the farm -- first through the horse pasture where Snowbreak and Midnight contentedly graze by the ponds, then along Willett Miller Road. They go past the Bald Mountain Farm barn and through Archie and Blanche’s fields. I imagine Blanche in her garden, leaning on her hoe and waving as a they float by, their bottle a makeshift vessel missing a sail. They get to the pavement, navigate the culvert underneath Highway 194, and then join Pine Orchard Creek. The current carries them past the Todd Mercantile where perhaps they get a whiff of cinnamon from Helen’s bakery before merging with the New River just beyond the bend.
By then they have settled down some—ready for the long journey ahead. The New River, despite its name, is the oldest river in North America. But it is small and shallow here in the mountains of North Carolina. It winds through bucolic pastures where the occasional fisherman stands on the bank casting for rainbow trout in the silvery waters. Tourists rent inner tubes and navigate its shallow rapids with beer and sunscreen in the coolers that they tow behind. Wood ducks and mallards splash among the big rocks that hug the river banks. Other than the occasional hellbender, stirred up from the muddy depths, my troubles have little to fear as they are carried onward, caught up in an inevitable current, moving steadily to some uncertain end.
The water gets deeper and faster as it continues through Ashe County and then northward (against all expectation) into Virginia, there to be joined by the Little River and then the Greenbrier in West Virginia. My troubles surely must look up in awe as the ever-deepening water swiftly carries them through the steep, craggy terrain of the New River Gorge before becoming the Kanawha River and then flowing westward to the Ohio River.
They must be amazed at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as they float past the violet- speckled slopes of Fort Defiance Park in Illinois and then turn sharply south. The water is muddy and brown by then. Crappie, catfish, and bass hide in deep holes on the river bottom. The bottle-ship that has housed my worries for so long is scratched and dingy as it wearily navigates the vast sprawling pathway of water through the river delta of Mark Twain’s America.
After days and days of travel it finally reaches the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans. I imagine that the smell of shrimp gumbo and the celebratory sounds of Mardi Gras fill the air as slowly but surely my bottle of troubles is carried into the ocean and then on out to sea. I leave my burdens there—resigned, exhausted from their 2000 mile journey—waving one last goodbye as they drift away in the deep blue water, becoming smaller and smaller until they disappear into the horizon.