‘Stay with the River’


From “Bang the Drum Slowly,” by Mark Harris.

One thing he knew was north from south and east from west, which I myself barely ever know outside a ball park. We drove without a map, nights as well as days when we felt like driving nights, probably not going by the fastest roads but anyhow going mostly south and east. “Stay with the river,” he said.

“What river?” I said. “I cannot even see the river.”

“You are with it,” he said, and I guess we must of been. He traveled according to rivers. He never knew their name, but he knew which way they went by the way they flowed, and he knew how they flowed even if they weren’t flowing, if you know what I mean, even if they were froze, which they were for a ways, knowing by the way the bank was cut or the ice piled or the clutter tossed up along the sides when we ever got close enough to see the sides, which we sometimes did because he liked to stop by the river and urinate in it. He would rather urinate in the river than in a gas station. Once a couple years ago I caught him urinating in the washbowl in the hotel in Cleveland. I bawled the daylight out of him. “I wash it out,” he said. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. For a long time I kept an eye on him.

Moving south he noticed cows out of doors. “We are moving south all right,” he said, “because they keep their cows out of doors down here.” He knew what kind they were, milk or meat, and what was probably planted in the fields, corn or wheat or what, and if birds were winter birds or the first birds of spring coming home. He knew we were south by the way they done chicken. “We ain’t real south,” he said, “but we are getting there. I can taste it.”

2 Replies to “‘Stay with the River’”

  1. Johnny, you got it: On U.S. 24, somewhere between Gilman and Piper City. This was at the beginning of the cross-country trip Chris and I did with Liam a couple years ago. We saw the carousel animals in the field and pulled over. Chris may have gotten some better shots of the scene.

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