“Tell me a story, Grandfather,” said the child, finding a place to sit close to the old man’s feet.
“Stories are like rivers,” the old man said. “Where should I start?”
“At the beginning,” said the child, already playing with pebbles found near the base of the log where Grandfather sat.
“The river’s source,” Grandfather said, eyes closed. “Every river has its source, but its true beginning is not its headwaters. Water is its source, as words let us see more than what is often seen only with the eyes. Imagine this:”
“Somewhere out on an enormous sea, the midday sun is heating the surface from above, but not so much unlike the fire under one of your mother’s water pots on the stove. As the water temperature rises, tiny bits of it become steam – the vapor that makes your mother’s teapot whistle when the water’s hot.”
The child waited, knew more was on its way.
“On the sea, the sun’s rays cause tiny water particles to rise - to leave their home, the sea. Those form clouds as the sun-heated air below keeps the particles from falling back to sea. Invisible, but we can watch the clouds that form and know they’re the water that’s left the sea.”
“Do all clouds have water, Grandfather? They don’t look wet to me, except when it rains. They get all dark and then raindrops fall.”
“That they do,” Grandfather said, a small smile playing at his lips. “Raindrops. Might they be the source of every river? Beginnings?”
Stacking pebbles, one atop another, the child listened.
“Words are like raindrops, don’t you think?” asked Grandfather. “They won't get you wet, but how can I tell you a story without words? They aren’t the story. Words let us imagine things and places – even ones we’ve never seen.”
“Then is this the story?” asked the child, waiting for the answer, pebbles abandoned for a moment.
“Close your eyes and imagine,” Grandfather said, then paused. “Each raindrop lets us see where water has run before, from mountains to the sea. First, raindrops dripping from leaves and trees make little pools – we've seen them. No longer do we see them as raindrops. It takes many raindrops to make those pools. When they overfill, they and others, dribble into larger rivulets. Those become creeks or streams. Other streams join the journey – streams become larger – become rivers. Rivers carve out paths on their way back to the sea.”
“That the story, Grandfather? Water?”
“Here’s water’s story – listen - remember: Sea – mist – clouds – raindrops – pools – rivulets – creeks – streams – rivers – then back home to sea. Water has followed those paths like the path we took today when we began our walk. Others have waked this way before. Over and over, its journey never ending, water does what water’s done for ages.”
The child looked up. “The same water, Grandfather? The same raindrops?”
“That’s possible. Where does water’s story really start? Where does it really end?”
After a moment, the child picked up a small stone and threw it. “There's a story of a stone. Maybe someone else will find it and throw it, too. Or take it with them.”
Grandfather nodded. “It’s all about the journey. There is no final destination. There is no ending unless we say that’s the end. Just imagine what comes next. But watch the path. We’ll get to where we’re going. It may not be exactly what we imagined, but we will get there.”
He stood and reached down. The child took his hand. They’d walked the path before – but each time was just a little different.
* * *