I was sitting down by the Sangamon on my red Adirondack on a surprisingly “warm” (definition: over 50) February day. The pleasantly breezy afternoon felt like a real gift from nature for a weekend day in February, at least in these parts.
In a very relaxed state, I sat back, stretched out, shut my eyes for a minute or two, and I do believe I began to nod off.
I was startled awake by a large carp leaping high out of the river right in front of me about midway across.
It’s an exhilarating sight to see a big fish leaping out of the water; what motivates them to such a spontaneous act of seemingly pure joy?
But here’s the interesting part: as he leapt, I could have sworn I heard him exclaim: “Carpe Diem!”
That seemed a little odd, but the splash died down and the ripples faded as I began to relax again.
Just then a beautiful great blue heron landed in the shallows of Crooked Creek delta, looked casually over at me, then stared intently down into the water, undoubtedly seeking lunch.
I knew him of course, it was Harry and he fished here often – like he owns the place – but I don’t mind. Then the carp leapt out of the water again, and again I swear I heard him exclaim “Carpe Diem!”
Harry looked up and said, to no one in particular, “Must he do that!? Can’t he see that some people are trying to fish?”
A moment later a little beaver swam up, climbing onto a huge fallen sycamore trunk lying on the delta, half out of the water. And the carp leapt out of the water again. This time I was absolutely certain he exclaimed “Carpe Diem!”
“Gee whizakers, did you guys hear that?” said the Beav. “Yeah!” I said. Harry looked over at me with a particularly perturbed expression.
“What’s that mean anyways?” the Beav asked.
Just then a great horned owl lighted on a branch protruding over the river just beside Crooked Creek. “Seize the Day!” Woodsy explained. “Or did you miss Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society?”
“Nossiree, didn’t catch that,” the Beav said, adding “but I just saw Robin in that purty red-orange shirt of his early this mornin’ out in that grassy field. And, geez, it sure looked like he was catchin’ a lotta worms!”
“…more than I can say…” Harry wryly interjected, again glancing over at me with that perturbed expression.
Woodsy replied: “I doubt if that was Robin, but our friend Carp Diem there is merely trying to remind us to live every day to the fullest. Excellent advice, I say!”
And then it occurred to me: “Hey, this probably has something to do with Monday’s Leap Day”
“Gee whilakers, beavers ain’t really too keen on leapin’ any day,” bemoaned the Beav.
“It’s not actually about leaping,” Woodsy explained. “It’s just an extra day humans give themselves every 4 years in February since they can’t seem to figure out how to tell time without messing things up.”
“Golly Jee, Mr. Woodsy, what’s so tough about telling time? Cain’t they tell daytime from nighttime?” asked the Beav, adding “but, whonkers, a whole entire extra free day? Pretty awesome! But why February?”
“Can’t explain that.” Woodsy explained. “You’d think they could’ve given themselves an extra day of summer vacation, or Christmas Break, or at least not in the same year they also have to put up with television campaign ads.”
“Geez, what’s a campaign, Mr. Woodsy? What’s a television? What’s an ad?”
Oh, to be a young, naïve beaver, I thought.
“I’ll explain that later,” Woodsy explained.
“Say! You humans are sure some lucky ducks!” the Beav looked over and said to me “Golly Gee, a whole extra free day you guys get to do anything you want!”
Carp Diem leapt high out of the river again, shouting “Seize the Day!” Sploosh!
So I stepped in, explaining: “Sadly for most of us humans it’s just another day at the office. Most don’t even take the day off. Even me. I’ll surely just be off to work that day, and what’s worse: it’s a Monday.”
“What’s a Monday?” asked the Beav. Oh, to be a young, naïve beaver…
The Beav went on “…and why couldn’t any ol’ day be an extra day? Yeah! And why shouldn’t you guys seize every single day!”
“I like your style, Beav!” I enthusiastically replied.
“Carpe Diem!” exclaimed Carp Diem as he leapt high out of the water yet again, Sploosh!
“Can’t we get a little peace and quiet around here!?” shouted Harry. “Some of us are trying to catch lunch! I’ve got half a mind to seize that carp!”
Carp Diem again leapt high out of the river. “Seize the Carp!” he tauntingly exclaimed. Sploosh!
“So I’m just curious,” I asked of this rather unlikely motley assembly in the river in front of me, “if you guys had an extra free day, what would you do?”
“That’s easy, I’d spend the day working on log jams out here on the river.” Said the Beav. “Clearing them or making them?” I inquired. “Geez, I ain’t gonna tell you that, mister.”
“I’d surely spend it fishing. A heron’s got to eat lunch someday” responded Harry.
“I might get out beside the highway and pick up some litter. I really do give a hoot. But more likely, I’d spend it sleeping,” Woodsy replied “I’m something of a night owl, myself.” “Makes sense,” I added.
“Seize the day!” exclaimed Carp Diem, leaping high again and landing with a sploosh. Harry glanced over at me with that perturbed expression of his, then flew off downriver with a loud “Frawnk! Frawnk!”
“What about you, mister?” asked the Beav.
“Well, if I played hooky from work, I’d undoubtedly be out here on the Sangamon, walking, exploring, kayaking; all that stuff I love to do.”
“Just like us.” Said the Beav. “Yep” I answered. I still felt sort of tired, so I stretched out my arms, let out a yawn and shut my eyes briefly.
When I opened them, they were all gone. Just like that. It was as if they were never really even there. Hmm.
So I got up, looked over at my electric blue Perception 9.5 kayak and paddle leaning against the trunk of a hawthorn tree. And I thought to myself:
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, February 25, 2016, by Scott Hays