Walking along the creek toward Westhampton Lake, I took no notes and instead tried to interact with my surroundings as if without external purpose. I had seen the other creek and further up this one, but had never been along the little hillside where our walk began. Watching and listening and breathing and moving, I was struck by a very general sense of welcomeness, and it was an important reminder. I’d spent my fair share of time outdoors over break, but already in the time I’d been back at school I was feeling jam-packed, and I hadn’t spent much time at all reuniting with the greens and blues and browns we’re so lucky to have on our campus. But the gurgling water (less so without an incline to propel it, I learned) and the moss and the wet leaves were so inviting; it was a great comfort to remember that no matter how busy I get with school and how far away I feel from the nature that’s constantly so close, it will always, always welcome me back. I love that a major component of the EL class experience is welcoming nature into our lives in equal measure, actively taking time to enfold ourselves in it and reflect.
As we walked, I was also thinking within the context of a class on moving water and its importance in the fabric of human communities. And another comfort came to me in the awareness that our affinity for water lies, in part, in the moving water that comprises our own bodies almost entirely. Economy and nourishment and recreation aside, a river feels so central to the way we live because of this deep and unbreakable connection. A filmy creek, a man-made and bike-filled lake, the James—each of these is a joy to discover because it represents a common element uniting all living things, which surpasses all divisions and sustains our existing together. The James gives us water to drink, a physical community center, good publicity, and more, and I’m continually impressed so far by the extent of Richmond’s appreciation for all of these. We seek in return, generally, to care for this force that sustains us. But it’s invigorating and maybe also very important to remember this less practical reason to appreciate the river at the heart of our city—it’s an image of our unity and, in fact, that unity extends not just between all human Richmonders but between us and the James itself.