I am standing on the edge of the Echo River, watching it flow upstream, seemingly determined to find its way back to its beginnings, to retrace its steps and revisit where it’s been. The locals here say—with understandable pride—that this is one of only two rivers in the world to flow in both directions, usually moving toward its ultimate destination—Lake Huron—but sometimes, when the winds, the currents, and the water levels align themselves just right, reversing itself to flow back toward its source, the tiny “Upper Echo River” that trickles from the rocky hills into Echo Lake, two miles north, at its farthest shore. I’ve never been able to confirm this local myth, and nobody seems to know which other river purportedly shares this retrospective inclination. But I’ve seen it happen here. In the end, of course, there is no stopping the forward flow from hills to river, river to lakes, lakes to the sea. As I watch the Echo River in one of those rare moments, I find myself thinking about flowing backwards, and wondering how far back I would have to go to understand how I got here and what it means.
That’s the opening paragraph in Shifting Currents. This summer, the river is flowing backwards most of the time, presumably because the levels in the Great Lakes have risen sharply after the heavy winter and rainy spring.
Of course, my musings this year have not been so much about how I got here, but where I will go. We are gradually moving out of that self-imposed limbo, but not in quite the direction we’d been expecting. I guess you sometimes have to go to the brink to know how you really feel.
Not only did we decide not to make an offer on the only house we’d seen that tempted us, we decided not to continue actively looking. We began to realize we’d spent a lot of time looking for what we already have. And—surprise!—we weren’t finding it.
We’d been looking at houses right in town. Smallish lots. Manageable, which seemed like a good idea—until we started noticing how much we move around here just carrying on our daily lives. Jack walks back and forth from the studio; I wander from the house to the garden, push a wheelbarrow from the garden shed to prune the shrubs near the house, carry the compost to the composter. Every one of these small treks would have us two houses down in the city. Yesterday Jack spent much of an hour with the string trimmer. Today we’ll be lopping tree branches and carrying them to a brush pile—another two city lots away. These small demands on strength and mobility are the kinds of activity that keep people moving even when they’d be just as happy sitting on the deck with a book and a beer.
Then there’s the pottery studio. We looked at every house with an eye to its suitability for Jack’s pottery set-up. Some awful houses had wonderful workshops; the one we almost jumped at would have given him space, but basement space compared to the big windows he has now, looking out on fields and hill.
So, we looked a bit farther out of town. There are some gorgeous building lots on the northern edge of the Sault, and some lovely homes as well, though at the moment not for sale. We don’t really feel like committing a year or more to building, and if we’re going to move far enough out of town to be car based wherever we go, what have we gained? A few minutes’ driving time.
At some point along the way, we realized we’d lost sight of our first principle: we wanted to move to something, not just away from something. And so we’ve decided. We are not moving away from here unless or until we either can’t manage the place or something so wonderful comes along that the tug is greater than the resistance. We’ve told our real estate guy to keep us in mind if the perfect place comes along. By now, he knows just how needy we are! Until then, we’re home.
Of course, we’ve dragged other people along on this journey—mostly our kids and some close friends who will be very glad to change the channel! The one regret we have is that our son Robin, who has dreamed for years of owning the farm, will have to postpone that dream again. I do hope it will come true for him some day.