The Soul of a River | Inspirational Nature Essays

June 28, 2018

Listen to episode 278 of the Inspirational Living podcast: The Soul of a River. Edited and adapted from “Little Rivers” by Henry van Dyke.

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Today’s reading was edited and adapted from the book “Little Rivers” by Henry van Dyke, published in 1895.

A river is the most human of all inanimate things — and the one most capable of offering companionship. It has a life, a character, a voice of its own, and is as full of good fellowship as a sugar-maple is of sap. It can talk in various tones, loud or low — and of many subjects, grave and joyful.

Under favorable circumstances, it will even sing — not in a fashion that can be reduced to notes and set down on a sheet of paper, but in a vague, refreshing manner, and to a wandering air that goes: "Over the hills and far away…"

For real company and friendship, there is nothing outside of the animal kingdom that is comparable to a river. I will admit that a very good case can be made in favor of some other objects of Nature. For example, a fair argument has been made by those who have fallen in love with the sea. But that is a formless and disquieting passion. It lacks solid comfort and mutual confidence. The sea is too big for loving, and too uncertain. It will not fit into our thoughts. It has no personality, because it has so many. It is, in many ways, a salty abstraction.

There is also a love for the Mountains, which is more satisfying because they are more individual. It is possible to feel a very strong attachment for a certain mountain range whose outline has grown familiar to our eyes — or a clear peak that has looked down, day after day, upon our joys and sorrows, moderating our passions with its calm aspect. We come back from our travels, and the sight of a well-known mountain is like meeting an old friend unchanged. But it is a one-sided affection. The mountain is voiceless and self-possessed. And its very loftiness and serenity sometimes make us the more lonely.