End of the Line

A River Runs Through Me

The virtues of living on — and sometimes in — moving water

Illustration: Barry Blitt

If you have a pond or a little lake or something in your backyard, that’s nice. But you really ought to get yourself a river. Of course we’re talking about a lot of water. Every time I look at the river that I happen to have running along my backyard up here in western Massachusetts, it’s a good deal of water streaming briskly on by. I don’t know how you’d come up with that much water, and then you’d have to make it go. My river runs itself. It’s called the Konkapot.

I live upon the Konkapot,
I am a Konkapotian.
My river doesn’t hold a lot
Of water, like an ocean,

But oceans just slosh back and forth,
Frothing up and down.
The Konkapot runs south from north,
In and out of town.

The town is Mill River. It’s named for the mills that operated up and down the Konkapot in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The river is named for a Mohican Indian chief who was converted to Christianity and screwed out of vast amounts of property. In 1763 a Massachusetts selectman named Ephraim Williams leased 140 acres of land from Konkapot’s son, Robert (who by some accounts drank), for five hundred years at an annual rent of one peppercorn, according to A Life of John Konkapot, by Lion G. Miles.

It passes through Mill River village
(Helping make it scenic),
Enriches my small garden tillage,
Becomes part Umpachenic,

Then takes off for the Nutmeg border
To join the Housatonic.
Its virtues, in ascending order,
Are visual and sonic.

The Umpachene is another small river; it flows into the Konkapot just below my place. The Nutmeg State is Connecticut. The Housatonic is the bigger river that the Konkapot gives itself up to. My wife and grandchildren like to go tubing on the river—sitting on old tractor-trailer-tire tubes and floating along. When the river’s low enough for tubing to be unthrilling enough for my taste, I bump on the bottom too much. My prostate has held up this long—no sense leaving it on a pointy rock.

It’s lovely to behold in ways
I cannot render verbal—
Nor can I adequately praise
The tenor of its burble.

However, since I tend to value
Sound more than sight,
Let’s just see if I can tell you
How it sounds at night.

It sounds restful, I’ll tell you that. Once from a sudden downpour of rain it flooded all the way to the edge of the house and swept away most of the lawn and garden, but how can you hold a grudge against a river?

Like water running—not from taps
But running like a line
Of verse—a line by Keats, perhaps.
Not like one of mine.

Convey the sound? I can’t begin.
But maybe I’ll be able
To characterize the river in
Relation to the table.

Sometime when the river is low we might actually put a table in it and have a cooling meal. I have eaten trout I’ve caught from it. But…I hate to tell you this. You’ll think I’m a wuss. But it’s the truth: I don’t feel right about taking fish from the Konkapot anymore. They’re my neighbors. They may think my attitude toward them is crazy, though. Maybe you remember the old Pogo comic in which Albert and Churchy have lines in the water but are ignoring them because they’re arguing, and a fish sticks his head out of the water and says, “Are you going to fish, or are you going to talk?”

Whether it trickles green and slow,
Like drizzled olive oil,
Or, replete with sunbaked snow,
The Konkapot’s aboil,

It’s most like wine that always flows
And yet does not run out,
Is always chilled and always goes
Very well with trout.