photography & poems by D. Patrick Miller



I recently moved to an apartment near a 1.5-mile path following the tidal Napa River. In my 10+ years in Napa CA, I've always been instinctively drawn to this area, off a road called Old Soscol, without knowing why. Shortly after I resettled here I learned that "Soscol" refers to the Native American settlement known as Suskol Village, believed to have thrived here for ten thousand years, making it one of the oldest human settlements in North America.

Not long after my arrival, I took a rough tumble down the riverbank that left me severely bruised and dizzy for weeks. Miraculously, beyond a minor concussion there were no lasting injuries — no broken bones or dislocated joints. Actually I don't recall the fall at all, but I knew something dramatic had happened as I staggered back to the apartment.

A friend later suggested that the local ancients had "welcomed" me to the neighborhood with a dramatic suggestion that I pay closer attention to the surroundings. I certainly got the message...





As I walk the paved path in slick running shoes
I’m drawn down a steep dirt trail toward the river.
Suddenly gravity warps, upending space and time
and landing me, hard, against a tree whose roots
sink into the history of this earthen spot.

For ten thousand years a simple civilization thrived here.
Countless generations drew their sustenance from the
water, the trees, and the wildlife ceaselessly arising
from the river, whose steep banks were nimbly run
by the shoeless and the moccasined. Living and dying
passed by on this ground as nature designed it,
for a time that must have seemed like forever.

From extinction grows a mischievous wisdom.
The soil-dark knowledge of long-interred ancients
invites inquiries from the living, yet nearly all of them
walk by unawares. Sometimes one is chosen to be
thrown down toward the river, to bring the ear
of his heart to the ground. From there he can
choose, like anyone could, to listen for
the lessons of the roots.





The river appears just as it did yesterday
yet none of the water is in the same place
even from moment to moment. Yesterday’s
water is long gone, and has likely reached
the ocean. Am I seeing the same river if
it is constantly arriving and departing?
Often the wind drives surface ripples
in the opposite direction to its flow,
compounding illusions. But stillness
yields the most powerful distortion:
Upon the water’s flat surface I can
see the riverbank on the other side.
Trees and clouds are clearly on
the water, and yet they are not.

How much of what we think we see
is only a reflection? How many of the
ripples of time are moving against the
flow of real change underneath? If we
managed utter stillness, would there be
nothing to see at all?