Riverboats and Bone Yards II

By Stu Whitley
Bio

This is second in a five-part series.


Those paddlewheel steamers on the Yukon keenly awakened my sensibility
that all things—regardless of how grand or wonderfully complex at the
time—have their time. If we are lucky, they, like us, will live on in a
sweet memory, rife with nostalgic editing that carves away the worst.

Like
a distant love affair that once seemed to have held the very purpose of
life in its hands, it is possible to be reminded of happier moments
that, for reasons not quite understandable now, at a far remove were
incapable of sustaining themselves. There’s a mystic contemplation that
surrounds something we do not want to end.

being to timelessness as it’s to time
love did no more begin than love will end
—e.e. cummings

Never
mind that paddlewheel steamers burned anywhere from six to ten cords of
wood an hour, depending on the currents. What this mode of passage
recalled was travel on a more human scale, where people dined with one
another, rather than facing forward in narrow seats while clutching
plastic forks. One traveled through the countryside, rather than over
it—experiencing, literally, a world of difference.

As we age,
there are more of these memories that make us yearn for the ‘good old
days’. But as bumper sticker lore would have it: the only thing good
about those days is that they’re old…which is why poetry triumphs over
the past. Aristotle wrote that poetry is finer and more philosophical
than history because poetry expresses the universal, whereas history
concerns itself merely with the particular. The truth in poetry is as
valid for the current reader as it was when it was written.

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