This is the week of goodbyes. Over the course of the next three days I will be saying goodbye to the seniors graduating from Bard College. Tomorrow marks the first goodbye, with the baccalaureat ceremony, followed by the always-rowdy senior dinner. Friday night at the President's dinner we say farewell in a more sedate manner. What follows the dinner is my favorite part of graduation, the senior concert. The American Symphony Orchestra performs pieces composed by graduating seniors. The music is always inspiring. To hear a work of a young composer performed by such a talented orchestra is thrilling. And then Saturday, those students march across a stage and are gone. So fast. I've watched some grow up, intellectually, emotionally, physically. The young men change more than the women, it seems, growing taller and broader in four years.

I am always a bit heartbroken at the end of graduation. On that day, a shift happens. These graduates no longer need me--to read their work, encourage them through finals, figure out a paper topic. I applaud this, of course. But it leaves a hole. And then I will wait for the next shift, that moment when they write needing a letter of recommendation for graduate school. They write to tell me of jobs or marriages, of children born. They write to tell me they are writing.

To add to the leavings, I too am leaving, off to Alaska for a month. My own departure for such a stretch of time has its own sense of loss. Of course I'm thrilled to be off to this big place I have visited before. I have never been disappointed with my adventures in Alaska. But for a stretch of a month, I will be off the river. This has created in me a sense of quiet desperation. I've been out in my boat as much as I can, as if I can absorb the river into my body and take it with me. 

I've come to need the river, and the egotistical side of this is that I sense the river needs me as well. It doesn't, of course. Recently I received an email from Riverkeeper in which they describe their captain, who is also my good friend, John Lipscomb, as the eyes and ears of the river. He keeps a watch on the river, reporting back what he finds, taking action against polluters and illegal developers. But I really see him as the voice of the river, speaking for what the river needs. The river does need him. Perhaps the river does need all of us.

This morning, under a half-blue sky, I shoved north from the Tivoli launch, headed toward the Saugerties Lighthouse. I dipped into the bay south of the lighthouse, the same bay that will be clogged with water chestnut and spatterdock by the time I return from Alaska. I was about twenty feet away from shoreline when I spotted the eagle, perched low in a snag. It sat there as I bobbed in the water; it preened, and ignored me. Of all the birds on the river, this is the one that people are most excited to see. "See any eagles?" is the first question I get when people see my binoculars. What most people don't understand is that the eagle is an obvious bird; birders are looking for smaller, more elusive birds. And yet--seeing an eagle, especially so close, remains a remarkable thing.  I thought of all of the eagles I will see in Alaska. My memory is that they are everywhere, so common you stop paying attention to them. I'll hold onto this image of my Hudson River eagle, part of the success of restoring this river. Restored because people need this river but the river needs us as well to care for the shad and sturgeon, the eels and eagles. 

Reader Comments (1)

You hit it just right--these moments of leave-taking and the little snippets that allow us to overcome the desperation: the eagle, the knowledge of the river, and those kids who will write back.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

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