The Writing Traveler: A River’s Secrets


Fishing in the midst of memories at sundown. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

He left. But he always comes back. The river awaits him. Only the river remains, the river and a dying town that mourns its past.

He came back every year when the lingering heat of summer was finally broken by the early chill of autumn.

He came home.

But only the river seemed like home.

The town had always been a mystery to him.

It was small.

It was bigoted.

It was run by a handful of men in gray suits who believed the town had been built solely for their personal and financial benefit, and maybe it had.

They owned the town.

They owned the bank.

They owned the money in the bank.

He remembered it well.

His daddy was losing the farm.

His daddy was broke.

His daddy begged for a loan.

The men in gray suits laughed him out of the bank.

All his daddy owned was a pistol.

And a bullet.

He used them both one time.

The only ground he had left was the patch of earth that held his grave.

Caleb Pirtle

The boy’s mama died that winter.

She had the fever, Old Doc Willis said.

He couldn’t cure it.

She didn’t want to be cured.

All she had was a son.

But he was grown.

He was in the army.

There was nothing left for him.

The boy came home to be with her when she breathed her last.

She had a final smile.

She had a final word.

I love you, she said.

He gripped her hand and thought he would cry.

He didn’t.

There was a certain peace in death.

And his mama needed peace.

He kissed her once, stayed long enough for the preacher to send her on her way beyond the Jordan River.

And he did what he had to do.

The young man spent all day walking out in the chilled river water, watching ripples fade away among the rocks.

The trout were running.

He caught them because he could.

He threw them back because he wasn’t hungry, and there was no reason to kill them.

He left the river at sundown.

He came back when the dark of night had draped itself across the country.

The river was quiet.

The night was quiet.

The only sound was when moonlight touched the river.

He heard a gentle splash.

He heard it three times.

And he drove away before morning cracked open the sky.

He left.

And the town withered away.

The men in gray suits were gone.

Their money was gone.

The banks closed.

So did the stores.

Homes crumbled.

So did the cemetery.

There had been no new graves in years.

He left.

But he always comes back.

The river awaits him.

Only the river remains.

He was standing in white water, casting his line, when I saw him.

I nodded.

He smiled.

“Beautiful place,” I said.

“I grew up in this river,” he said.


He laughed. “You can almost hear the day break,” he said.

“I could stay here forever,” I said.

“You wouldn’t be the first.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“What do you mean?”

“This river would make a damn good novel.”

“How’s that?” I wanted to know.

“Nobody ever found the bodies,” he said.

I said nothing.

He cast again.

“Nobody was left to look for them.”

I expected the day to grow dark.

It didn’t.

A town could mourn.

But not the river.

Please click HERE to find Confessions from the Road on Amazon. It is a collection of stories about places and people I’ve met along the way.

, , , , , , , ,

Related Posts