portfolio > gone on the river

father's day
father's day
June 19, 2022

When I was a kid, maybe a tween, my dad visited Israel.

In his early 40s (the age I am now, give or take), he'd started going to Seminary. He'd had a revelation at a Minnesota United Methodist Annual Conference, shortly after his mom died unexpectedly. He felt an old calling, one that he had resisted prior to that, powerfully renewed. He set about working to become a pastor.

Part of that journey took him on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Holy Land. He came back with all sorts of things, including a new (and essentially unwelcome) breakfast option: dried fish, cucumber and tomato salad, and crusty rolls with flavored yogurt. He was the only member of the family who loved this.

But among the things he brought back were vials and vials of water from places he found sacred. A vial of the Sea of Galilee, of the Jordan River, of the Dead Sea. He kept these liquid relics in his office, once he became a minister. They seemed to be both a physical and emotional connection to the birthplace of his faith, and to the God herself. (Dad always and only used female pronouns for God.)

When I was planning this trip down the river, and the process of trying to turn it into some sort of artwork afterwards, I hit on what seemed like a fun and entirely novel idea. I'd collect small samples, each day. I could test them, maybe. Look at them in a microscope. I didn't know what I'd do with them, exactly, but I'd do something. I was inspired, I thought, by the Water Walkers, who take some water from Itasca to rejoin with the river at the Gulf, to remind the river of itself.

It was only after I actually purchased these vials (at Ax Man in St. Paul, of course) that their similarity to dad's collection of Important Waters hit me.

I thought: holy shit I am my dad.

That thought has not deterred me. If anything, it strengthened my fascination, my commitment to seeing this collection process through. So every day, in the morning, I collect a tiny sample of water from the middle of the river, near where I slept the previous night. I keep it in my left breast pocket of my brown flannel shirt. At some point I write a little label, with the place and the date. I now have twenty of these. By the end of the journey I will have something like ninety of them.

I will do something with them. I don't know what, but something.

Happy father's day, da.