River Journeys & Lessons

by | Dec 6, 2022 | 0 comments

How do we think about paths? When we envision journeys — including life journeys — it seems the default is to imagine a path. What about thinking of the journey as movement along a body of water: a river?

During the cruise, I shared my presentations about Florida’s natural springs, its centuries-old history of canoe-making, the first (legal) free black settlement in the U.S. (Fort Mosé in St. Augustine), and other topics.

This trip was particularly special for me, because it started and ended in Jacksonville, Florida, where my great grandparents built and lived in a cabin in the mid-to-late 19th century, right along the coast of the St. John’s.

Just before my trip, I wrote to my uncle about the cabin, and he told me that a new cabin (a replica of their cabin) had been built in its place, and the land remained undeveloped because it was near a shell mound–evidence of the Timicua and other indigenous peoples who once called these watersheds their home.

log cabin


Moving along the river–like the steamboats and canoes of long ago, I had time to reflect on the river as a way of thinking about our life journeys.

Often we use the metaphor of the “path” to describe our personal journeys, as if we are forging a path through a wild world, making our way alone. Yet the river reminds us of our interconnectedness. Florida springs feed the river, and it branches off into many tributaries. It always finds the path of least resistance, and keeps moving, flowing …

Like water, our life journeys are always merging and blending with those of others. They are linked to the journeys of our ancestors and those of others who have lived wherever we might find ourselves.



As much as we might want to “fix” ourselves to a particular place, time or destination, the water reminds us of the importance of flow–flowing with the journey. We don’t necessarily need to pick up a symbolic machete and hack our way through the underbrush.

When we imagine our journey as a river’s journey, we can open ourselves more fully to the unexpected, and allow ourselves to feel and recognize the “hidden springs” that fill our heart and keep us going.

sunrise Jacksonville

Rivers and Memory

The great poet Langston Hughes wrote about rivers in his famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” I reflect on this poem as I mourn the three Black Jacksonville residents who were shot recently in a hate crime, the gunman ending the flow of their lives. His poem reminds us of that our path is never isolated. We are part of collectives of the here and then and the here and there. 

We continue on our journey, but we are all coming together from other waters, mingling with the lives and memories of others.

Wrote Hughes:

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


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