Fishing the Savage River in western Maryland is not easy — and not just because the brown trout are finicky. The place is a feast for the eyes and senses, so you can easily become distracted by the natural wonders.


On this day in late summer, I was struck by all the moss that grows on the boulders along the river — and the metaphorical contrast: Moss is associated with slow and the Savage is associated with fast. The water in the Savage frequently turns white, either from increased flow from the Savage Reservoir or from heavy rain. The U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team Olympic Trials were held there in 1992 and the world championship a few years before that. (Observation posts and decks are still standing along the river. Here’s a video of one of the competitors from 1989.) A few times each year, the state opens the big valve and white water kayakers race down the Savage.

But, under normal conditions, there’s moss. Moss everywhere on the boulders. Moss is associated with rootedness, with groundedness. “A rolling stone gathers no moss” strikes me as an American idea — that if you keep moving, keep taking action, keep looking to the future, you won’t become complacent and achieve less than your potential. Keep rolling and you won’t become a mossback!

That’s one way of looking at it. You could flip it and say that a person who moves too much and changes course too often is incapable of commitment, of sticking with one thing — and one place — and making a life. The river must think the moss-covered rocks are missing out. The moss-covered rocks must think the same of the rushing water. There now, I just attributed human thought to inanimate objects. That kind of thing happens on the Savage River, where a person can become easily distracted.

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