The cafeteria is named Bridges. From the windows I can see seven bridges carrying cars and trains and pedestrians across the Mississippi. I park on the west bank. I work on the east bank. A shuttle takes me from the ramp to my job. I return across the bridge on foot. From windows, from the sidewalks that cross the water, I watch the river reflect the changing seasons. On hot summer days pleasure boats speed past the slow moving tugboats pushing barges upstream. In September the college girls pull together in their racing sculls against a backdrop of brilliant yellows and oranges. The coach broadcasts her instructions with a bullhorn from a small boat motoring alongside. The water below reflects the lights of the city as I return to my car under the early blackness of December. The river freezes, breaks up, and freezes again. Spring carries chunks of ice downstream and soon the riverbank is a hundred shades of green as the branches bud and leaf out.
This river has always drawn me to its banks. I packed sandwiches and sodas for picnics on its banks. I took my young sons on bikes to trails under the Camden Bridge where we stopped to skip rocks across the water. I took my camera there, to capture reflections and wildflowers and boys growing to men. And I bike or walk the riverbanks still, along the many trails that follow the mighty river. I look for the woodchucks, and the mallards, the albino squirrels, and the white egrets fishing from trees above the water.
It has been a stressful day at the hospital. I walk along the river road. The water, far below me, is visible as patches of blue between the tangle of trees and brush. I walk fast, the pace of a busy nursing station is slow to leave me. I pull a handful of red leaves from a sumac, the first shrub to announce the coming cold days. My pace slows as I turn a corner to cross the bridge. I pause half way across, lean over. I drop the leaves. My eyes follow one as it flutters down, down, down to the water far below. The current takes it and twirls it and pulls it downstream. It takes my stress with it, to Hannibal, to New Orleans, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.