Living by the Stream

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Living by the Stream

Two men lived separately on the bank of a broad stream that flowed through their forest.
The first man went to sleep every night to the rippling or rushing sound of the water running over the rocks in its bed, and he awoke to the sound of the birds who went there to drink and bathe at sunrise.

Every morning one of the men got up and walked down to the bank of the brook with a bucket to collect water for the morning. He would sit with his feet cooling in the water as he watched it flowing past—sometimes a lazy meander, sometimes a torrent. He had long ago found a long-handled fishing net which he left in the low branches of a tree. Sometimes he used the net to pull things out of the water and carry them back to his home, where they graced the walls and surfaces of where he lived.

Some days he would see a blossom floating past—something that had fallen from a branch overhanging the river. Other days, he would capture a piece of driftwood with an interesting shape or color. Still others he would simply watch as bass and trout broke the surface leaping for flies and setting up ripples as they re-entered. Some mornings the sunrise created long channels of colored light on the dark surface. He knew there were otters living under the bank on the other side and sometimes he could watch them play.

Every morning as he reluctantly rose and headed back to his cabin, he thought to himself, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world having this amazing stream so close to my door,” and he frequently stopped and looked back with a satisfied grin.

The other man lay awake at night and struggled to fall asleep with he noise of frogs and splashing water in his ears. Every morning the cacophony of birds and the ceaseless rush of the water so close to his door awakened him up and left him frustrated in his bed wishing for silence.

Every evening this second man left his cabin and walked down to the bank of the brook with a bucket to dump his garbage from the day. He would hunker in the dusk and watch the water flowing past—sometimes a lazy meander, others a torrent. He had made piles of stones and sticks near his spot which he replenished every day.

Some days he would poke with a sharpened stick at the bloated corpse of a drowned animal floating past—something that had tumbled from the bank, unable to swim, and died in the water. Other days, he saw animal turds bobbing in the river, perhaps from the otters who lived under the opposite bank. Still others he’d see a shrub or small tree tumbling past after it had collapsed with a portion of the bank into the flow. He had tried catching fish, but he had decided there was nothing worthwhile there—carp and catfish who fed on trash. On the night of the new moon, he watched the surface grow darker, like some black hole into which he could never see. When the water rushed past he feared its terrible destructive power; when it barely moved and was low, the smell of stagnancy disgusted him.

Every evening, his chore done, he rose and padded away toward his cabin without a backward glance. Always he muttered the same words, “Someday I’ll be able to move away from this stinking sewer,” and he smiled grimly to himself at the thought.

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