Earlier last month I had the opportunity to go on a road trip up through Pennsylvania and into Canada with friends from high school. It was my first time exploring the North and the siren song of its autumn-like summer, but I hope to have the chance to visit again. Below are some sketches from the journey.
I got a call from the AD at GRID Magazine, a Philadelphia publication that focuses on sustainability and environmental concerns, to do a piece for their back page essay entitled The River Wild. The author advocates swimming in the local rivers of Philadelphia and the possibilities thereof. The nature of the article made me cringe a bit, bringing to mind the idea of trash and debris (read, bodies) floating about you while you're out for a bit of swim, but there is a confidence and love of nature in the article that imbues the reader with the sense of curiosity. It made me want to experience the historic bodies of water in my backyard and embrace the river. That, and the article makes a point to mention how clean the rivers are these days.
UPDATE/ The AD was kind enough to send me a PDF of the article in its layout. So, enjoy the piece in its home.
Tumbleweeding By Michael Taggart, Illustration by Tim Durning
The sink turns on every time, so you and I are not thirsty. This I know; this I’ve seen.
Colorado left me cold, which I suppose is Colorado’s job. A childhood of white everything stoked a hunger for the deeper tones—brick and blood reds, desert yellows, rich blues of ancient dye. For this hunger, I chose to leave Boulder as a tumbleweed, which raised everyone’s eyebrows. Eagle would have made my parents proud, and mountain would have offered some financial stability, but the notion of life as tumbleweed appealed to me: to be the ultimate freewheeler, rolling the Four Corners, slave to nothing, driven only by prevailing winds.
I did not expect roots.
In Utah, I tumbleweeded over holy roots that pulled at my loose deadgrass sphere. But for a strong gulfstream draft pulling me away, the holy roots would have me now. They wanted me to put on a tie, and they sang so well I was almost sold. Angels, they said, came now and again to give them the sweetest water you ever tasted. Just wait a while, and you’ll taste it. Tumbleweeds don’t drink water, sweet or not. As a seed, as a coyote, as a cloud, I would have stayed.
In Arizona, I tried to tumbleweed into the oldest roots. I had heard airy stories, almost mystic stories, about the wisdom in the juices of these old roots. And they did go deep, or at least they claimed. Some could not remember their depths—perhaps yesterday, perhaps the first raindrop. Well I could not stay with the old roots, even if they wanted me to—and I’m not sure they did. The roots’ arms that touched me on the surface were starved and sick with bad water. They had forgotten how to reach deep for strength. The ones I saw anyway, but the stories came from somewhere I suppose.
Plague ran rampant in New Mexico. Roots crumbled in every neighborhood I rolled past, and all the oldest ones had the same explanation: the strange roots from elsewhere made us sick. Now these strange roots didn’t say much at all, and the only sickness I could see was thirst. They worked hard inching their tendrils deep into the soil, where water might rest. Most of the new, strange roots accused the old ones of hoarding all the water. Maybe they did. Old roots do. But old roots also don’t work as hard; they don’t see the point. So When the young and strange roots found some water, they weren’t about to share it. And they all yelled at each other and hated at each other for the hottest parts of the day. Thank goodness for the winds off the Pacific; I wanted out of there before the water ran out again.
Those Pacific winds blew me right back to Boulder. I shook off the shape of the deadgrass ball, fatigued of freewheeling. The rivers run rich from the mountains, and we all drink freely—I less so than others. I’ll ask for the smallest cups and sip gingerly as my family takes big gulps from jugs filled in springs and wells and glaciers. They tell me it’s a phase I’ll pass through, an artifact from the tumbleweeding. But I’ve seen thirsty; I am not thirsty. Small sips will do, from cups filled at the sink.