One morning I am at Fort Hunter, looking out toward the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna is the longest non-navigable river in North America. It drains 27,500 square miles of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Approximately 448 miles separate it from start to finish. It provides half the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay. On an average day, the Susquehanna delivers 25 billion gallons of water to the Atlantic, enough to supply every household in the United States.
The governor lives alongside the river. I wonder if he takes advantage of his front row seat to watch it flow by. Sometimes when I look at the river, I think of Huck Finn. Huck may not have ridden the Susquehanna, but did remind us that a river can be an adventure. When in high school, my friend Tim and I built a raft from wooden pallets, plastic piping and barrels. We sailed that thing in a regatta from Owego to Nichols. For most of 11.1 miles, we floated in the current. Sometimes, we were forced to carry it through shallow waters. We were exhausted by our effort, burned by the sun, and we smelled like the river. I would like to do that again. Tim, what are you up to these days?
Captain John Smith also rode the Susquehanna. His explorations in 1608 may make him the first prospector on the river. Later, the Susquehanna was visited by another traveler by the name of David Brainerd. His diary records that “he traveled about a hundred miles on the river” and “visited many towns and settlements of the Indians.” Brainerd was not interested in exploring, he was a Gospel preacher, interested in converting the Indians. It appears that he followed the banks of the river, in reality he followed the leading of the Spirit.
Upriver, near Wilkes Barre, PA, I am told that beneath the river lies a “buried valley.” A channel a mile wide and perhaps 300 feet below the floor of the valley. It is a reminder that reality goes beyond what is visible. There is more than the eye can see. There is always more than the eye can see.
Just north of Fort Hunter, the river cuts through five mountain ridges. Instead of avoiding them, the Susquehanna attacks them head on to win its way toward the Chesapeake. Geologists are puzzled by the direction of the river. I am reminded of what David Hansen says about a river “always moving forward, always cutting new banks, providing constant nourishment for the valley.” He says this reminds him of the Holy Spirit.
Susan Q. Stranahan writes in Susquehanna, River of Dreams of a number of ways that people have attempted to manipulate the river for their own purposes. I am reminded of Simon who thought he could purchase the Spirit’s power and use it for his own profit. Just as the river can be misunderstood and polluted, I am reminded that the Spirit can be quenched.
As the Spirit, the river does not give in to manipulative effort. Wendell Berry reminds us that the river can benefit us, but we are not its master. Every time we think we have it under control, it reminds us of this fact.
We don’t have to look far to be reminded of this. In September 2011, Hurricane Irene was followed by Tropical Storm Lee and the Susquehanna rose significantly above flood stage. In Harrisburg, approximately 10,000 were evacuated (including the governor). Upriver, 75,000 were forced to evacuate the Wilkes Barre area. Further upriver, where Tim and I launched our homemade raft, the Village of Owego was ninety-five percent underwater. It is a clear reminder, we do not control this river.
My mind wanders a bit. I want to find a front row seat and watch for life along the shore. I want to wait to discover the next thing that floats by. I want to climb the high banks of the river in order to look upstream to see where it comes from. And downstream to see where it is going. I want to walk the water’s edge and discover something new. I want to wade with egrets and splash with fish. I want to cast in my line. I want to get caught in its current and flow wherever it leads. With David Brainerd, I see the water but desire to follow the Spirit.