And Some of the Words were Theirs

big river dark

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Spending an entire day fishing the Big River, with Wayne White, the River Sage, has filled me with ideas that are still incubating. River metaphors continue to resonate with me, and waking shortly after 6:00 this morning, sitting outside in a 67-degree paradise with a journal in my lap, I decided to explore this theme further.

For a number of years now, I have combed the surviving fragments of the Presocratic thinker Heraclitus, and this morning I added yet another gem to my favorite quotes from him. Previously, I have discussed with others his famous sayings: “All things flow; nothing abides” and “You can’t set foot in the same river twice”.  In my classroom, I have often contrasted him with Parmenides, arguing that Heraclitus represented a worldview of change while Parmenides offered a world of permanence. Heraclitus was fond of river metaphors while Parmenides preferred the circle.  But this morning, I was struck from the following, Heraclitus Fragment B50:

When you have listened, not to me, but to the Word,

it is wise to confess: One is All.

Yes, at face value that offers little. Translations always leave far too much in the shadows. The Greek text, however, is loaded, and once we try to expound the layers of meaning within those few words, the explanation becomes so ponderous that listeners become just as bored with the elaboration as they were dismissive of the terse text.

Having written that, let me try to offer this: The first line contrasts the one speaking and the Word.  Heidegger has pointed out that the Greek notion of “word” (logos) can mean “the gathering together.” The idea is immense, with “word” referring to some kind of cohering force. Keeping that in mind, the first line contrasts listening to speakers’ scattered opinions with the force that coheres.  All my life I have heard the noise of conflicting voices, often as annoying as today’s talk radio, everyone arguing for the supremacy of his/her position. Behind the cacophony of those scattered remarks lies the truth, the word that is coherent, not divided.

Second line: wisdom is something that always comes with time, never early. So, following the first line, when one has finally learned to listen to the force that gathers, s/he makes the wise choice of “confessing.” The Greek term for word (logos) is echoed in this word for confession (homologein).  “Homo” is “the same”. “Logein” is an infinitive, often translated “to speak”, but you see that its root is “logos”.  “To speak the same word” is what we translate “confess.”  And, when one hears that gathering force, and speaks in the same vein, what exactly is this confession?  “All is one.”

To sum up, when one listens to the gathering force rather than the scattered voices, wisdom dawns, and s/he confesses that there is an ultimate unity. Yes, this is my take on the Heraclitus fragment, and I’m holding it up, still believing that in our age, as in all previous ages, confusion often arises from the chorus of conflicting opinions, many of them shouted, and some of them backed by physical force. But I believe that there is an ultimate ground, a unity, from which all these fragments have spawned. The only limitations I see are the small minds unwilling to accept that there is much more than the perspectives they champion.

A day on the river was what I needed, and today more than yesterday, I realize the value it has brought to my life.

Thanks for reading. Now, let me offer up a few photos from yesterday’s odyssey:

big rock david

I shuddered when I finally saw this bluff with my own eyes.  Wayne has christened it “The Rock of David,” honoring me for doing a watercolor sketch of it last year from one of his photos. I promise that, having seen it now with my own eyes, I will endeavor to do a better painting of it in the future.  We anchored and fished next to this magnificent edifice for quite awhile.

big black

Throughout my life, I have caught so many species of pan fish that I have identified as perch, bluegill, red ear, warmouth, sunfish, etc. But never before have I caught anything as black as this. Wayne caught one as well.  These were firsts for my eyes.

big sunnie

As I’ve written before, I used to catch many of these as a boy, but haven’t seen one now for decades. Yesterday I caught at least half a dozen of them.

big little sunny

Even as small as this!

big wayne

Finally, hats off to Wayne, my trusted River Captain. He and Mark Nelson are the ones who make me feel safe. Alone, I am capable of capsizing kayaks. With these gentlemen, I am always safer whether in a canoe or in a john boat. My heartfelt thanks goes out to both of them for two splendid river excursions.

big river light

6 Responses to “And Some of the Words were Theirs”

  1. doubledacres Says:

    My friend I am speechless. Your words have enlightened me and awakened the spirit inside of me. I have always been fascinated by the river and you have added new meaning as to why I am mesmerized by the water that flows between to sides like the blood that flows through my veins. Both give me life.


  2. Carol Says:

    Sounds like a lovely adventure, and those fish would be fun to render in watercolor, don’t you think? Happy weekend, David!


  3. davidtripp Says:

    Thank you! I really want to try that sunfish.


  4. Karen Muzzy Says:

    I was deeply moved by this, David. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Karen, thank you for posting your comment. I was deeply stirred, but feared that my writing would be too pedantic and wooden to connect to others. I’m very glad it reached you.


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