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The Color Of Rivers

By Sue Cowing

There are two kinds of white rivers.  In one, the color is man-made.  No matter how deep you dip, the water is like milk.  If there are fish in this river, do not eat them.  Use the water for transportation, but keep your hands inside the boat. If you follow this river to its source, it may change color.


The other white river is white on the surface only.  Those who love this river swim to the rushing middle and let go.  Do not imagine you are a leaf tumbling over a little waterfall.  Look down.  Boulders are rolling beneath you at a shocking rate.  If there are fish in this river, you will never catch them.


The value of a yellow river depends on what is making it yellow.  If the river is called Yellow River, it’s good dirt, wade in.  What harm could come to you from the mother of a billion people?  Yellow rivers tend to be slow winding and old.  Live beside one to be prosperous, but be prepared to lose everything.  If the river rises, get in your boat.  If you need to move slower than you can walk, get in your boat.


Brown rivers run through the heart of Western countries.  Inns and taverns spring up along their banks.  Accordions play there.  The fish in brown rivers are not tasty, but plentiful.  People bring their chairs down to the edge of the river to watch their children build little dams.  Brown rivers need to be tended carefully to keep them free of debris, and of blood.


Most people have never seen a blue river.  If you were born beside one, don’t ever leave it, even if everyone else does.  You can become a fish in this river.  If you do leave, then wish to come back, you are asking too much.


All the rocks in a gray river are gray.  The water is turbulent, but can be depended on not to rise above its granite banks.  Fish in this river grow fierce whiskers and are delicious.  Gray may well be the best river you could choose.  Live beside it long enough, and you will begin to see how many colors gray is.





from Hawai‘i Review, Fall 1991






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