KEVIN TATE: Walking to the place where rivers begin



We started down the hill and followed the gravel path into the woods for a walk that would last no more than a couple hours. Sunset wasn’t too far away and, besides, I wasn’t sure how far his legs would be willing to take him. Along the loop, though, they took us further than I’d imagined we might go.

Across the field and into the woods, close by the Osage orange tree the boy’s Cub Scout troop had investigated, then down among oak and hickory and pine, the wandering path kept by the park service and helped by Eagle Scout projects and other acts of kindness was just right for a little boy who’d long since used up his keepers’ patience, whose energy had him more than ready to get out of the house on a gray, rainy day.

“The wood on the boardwalk might be slick,” I told him of the trail ahead, inspiring him to ask what a boardwalk was and why there was one ahead and what water it bridged and the like. Soon enough we came to it.

“That is a lot of water,” he said. He asked what fish might live in it and what you could catch and how. He asked whether there were any beavers here and also any foxes or bears. I answered as best I could.

Toward the slough’s lower end we found where its waters came to a head and flowed with a purpose under a footbridge then away.

“Where does this water go?” he asked and I gathered what geography I could find in my mind’s eye. I told him the slough and others like it flow out through ditches and drainages and small tributaries mostly without name until they reach the bigger creeks, then run on into rivers like the Tombigbee or the Pearl or the Big Black. Eventually the rain drops find their way to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans or Mobile then head out to sea. He stripped a handful of privet leaves and dropped one on top of the moving water. It floated and twirled, caught in an eddy for a moment then swung downstream and disappeared.

“How long will it take that to get to the ocean?” he asked and, with him, I imagined it making its way. I guessed, presuming it didn’t hang up or run aground but kept moving in the best current it could find, it might be there in three or four weeks. The wheels of his mind turned and his eyes took on a far-away cast I recognized from the mirror. I told him I wanted us to practice hiking until we were ready for some big boy walks, say, down in the Grand Canyon or along a section of the Appalachian Trail and he liked the sound of that, though he asked what a canyon was and seemed pleased with what I described.

We talked a lot but thought a lot more. Putting our boots to the ground for a couple miles turned our imaginations loose to roam much further, a pretty good outing for a simple, rainy day.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.