Come down and see the view from the Petaluma River’s perspective, the duck’s eye view from a small boat. Drift along with me in the company of an industrial lightbulb bearing a little load of algae. If you’re small enough, protozoan-scale, say, you can hitch a ride on a styrofoam cup, spray can, or plastic bottle going your way: two steps downstream, one step back up with the tide.
To see the city from here you must look up. Look up to the underbellies of herons and egrets, the flared orange hull of the pilot boat Drake, the saloon of the elegantly decrepit wooden yacht Wanda, the blue and grey conning tower of the Trig Lind. Up to undercarriages of trucks rumbling across D Street Bridge. Up to where small crabs creep and pickleweed sprouts on worm-eaten pilings. Up to the swallow colony under the freeway, up to fishermen perched on pilings, up to the resident kingfisher. Up to liveaboards who look down and wave. Up to the giant white crane, offloading and onloading, up to the barge’s plimsoll mark. Up to muffled human voices in offices; up to where pigeons roost and murmur.
Down here, my eye is drawn to an alien color amid the dusky palette where water becomes mud becomes land. If not captured, the offending object, like an oyster’s pearl, will be quickly embraced by chocolaty slime. Last week I disentangled from a mucky tomb the fluorescent red limbs of a sorry plush monkey.
The saddest thing I ever found was a purse. How much of a life is in a purse? Its waterlogged chassis wallowed like a catfish carcass, and somewhere there was an owner bereft. The happiest thing? A candlelit birthday cake floating on an inner tube.
All the river’s urban burden disappears when the wind that raged up in the afternoon settles at twilight, and the water shimmers like mercury, and even floating ducks and gulls disappear in the sky’s reflection.
Down here on the water, the river you thought you knew braids itself in glowing skeins of silver and gold.