The stones along the river were wet from the evenings rain.
Thick clouds darkened the sky earlier than was normal for this time of year, and the wind was brisk and cool. It stirred the leaves in the canopy, heavy drops of waters escaping slowly off of their edges to fall softly into the thick mat of last years vegetation. It looked pale and sterile compared to the darker green of the living veil above.
The moisture gave the trees a fresh new look, like cars in a showroom.
A forest for sale, dark and ready for adventure.
It smelled of water, both tidal water from the ocean and rainwater from last night. The tide was up, so the marine life was present just below the surface. The most obvious were the jellies.
They were easy to spot. One simply had to look for the slightly lighter shade of dark water to know that a jelly was just below the surface. Sometimes they would be up top glistening in the sun, so you would have a hard time missing them. When the tide went out many would get left behind on the rocks and sand, small flatish domes that looked like water that had forgotten to leave. Children would find them and be warned about how much they stung to touch. Their answer was to stab at them with every sort of stick and large rock the river had to offer.
Very few jellies made it back to the water when the tides returned.
Marine vegetation would wash up on the rocks, getting caught in the high spots. The rot attracted sea lice and small crabs, and they would fight for space under the decay. So much life from such an insignificant death. Kelp especially made the small animals happy it seemed. The gulls knew of the life below and they made their way to it with a vengeance. Fat from crab bites, they would hop and dance around the larger piles, while smaller birds with sharp beaks ignored the crabs in favour of the lice. Beaks flashing in and out of the mess, they never seemed to catch anything, but the size of the lice meant they didn’t need to chew, so every stab into the stench and the muck brought up a welcome mouthful.
These birds darted at the slightest sound, running up and away from even a heavy wash of the water.
The river filled and emptied at each tide, water from the mountains above overcome by water from the ocean below, so it’s banks were torn and clear much higher than would be normal for a freshwater river. Trees hung low over the pebbles of the riverbank, and when the water was up they draped suggestively into the salty, brackish, soup. Their roots safely remained many yards back, partly exposed, and tangled deeply into the stone and earth of the shore.
The trees seemed to envy the water its freedom, but not enough to loosen their collective grip.
He liked to sit and drink just above the high tide line. A bottle, usually beer, but sometimes something stronger, would accompany him. He habitually nursed the drink, and those who knew him would know how busy he was by how long the drink would last. An hour was a good indication that he was busy, but dealing well. A bad sign was when he finished the drink in under twenty minutes, and the worst sign of all was when he brought more than one bottle. That usually meant extra work for the family the next day.
Today was a large bottle of cider.
The banks were clean and grassy above the edge of the small precipice, and he sat as he usually did, legs crossed facing the water. His spot changed location from time to time, sometimes under a tree, others times closer to a large rock or wide sandy area, but today he was sitting under a series of trees leaning far out over the water. The big roots didn’t give him much room to stretch, but he seemed comfortable as he watched the water flow past him to the ocean.
He was in no hurry.
There was not really any sound where he was sitting that was not provided by nature. Sitting where he was, cars came within earshot of him perhaps once every hour. All he could hear were the leaves and the wind and the water and his thoughts. All we could hear were outcomes.
Sometimes he had some great ideas watching the water. Today was not one of those days though. The wind and the early darkness and the cool air made him feel nostalgic for the life he lived in the past, and that got him thinking. Why would he ever change what he had now for what he was then?
In another life, in another world, he sold pharmaceutical appliances.
If you needed something to help you get around the house, or something to allow you to drive your car legally, or something to make getting a job easier, he was the person who would help you decide how to do it.
Nobody ever paid for the devices and solutions he sold. It was always the same.
First was the assessment of needs, then came the presentation of solutions. Once that was started his job was to point out the flaws in the cheaper equipment and direct the buyer towards the big ticket items. The price of the solution was always within a hair of the limit of the buyers insurance, coincidentally, and they always felt good knowing that they had purchased just enough insurance to get the best solution for their needs.
After all, if you only need the $5000 answer, $10000 for the only slightly better answer is just wasting money, right?
He was well liked by his bosses and well liked by his clients.
On the river bank he could feel the salty air flow over the exposed skin on his arms. The hairs on his forearms rose just a bit as he enjoyed the sensation.
As he grew older he learned a bit about how medical insurance worked, and then how the insurance industry worked as a whole. He learned about pharmaceutical companies and what they did to maximize profits. Many of the things he learned upset him at a deep level, in a place he knew he couldn’t expose, for fear of losing what he had created, the career he had crafted for himself and his small family.
It’s hard to identify a danger if you work with it every day. A police officer and the sidearm he carries. A cowboy and the bulls he herds. A salesman and the corporations he sells for. Each of us has the dangerous accompaniment, the hazard we take for granted, and we work with it every day, working within the limits it places on us. Most of us rarely ever even realize what our hazard is, we just work over it, around it, under it, never seeing it for it’s true nature.
He saw the nature of his hazard, and he realized that it would cost him his soul if he paid the price it demanded. Most people understand this at some level and assume it’s an expression to represent the moral degradation, but he saw it as an exchange, a purchase.
So now I watch a tidal river and think about my children. I have sold my soul, but not to men.
I have purchased these beautiful woods, this endlessly uplifting tidal river, the animals, the fish, the sea plants, and all of the peace of mind they offer me every day as I survey their habits. I have purchased it all with the same soul mere men would have owned for my labour.
The trees look out over the water and see themselves reflected back, and so did he.