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The view from the river
by John Blackford
The Lenni-Lenape living along the Delaware River at first welcomed European settlers arriving early in the 17th century. But the natives were surprised to learn that Europeans considered the river a convenient boundary for states and counties – useful, in other words, for dividing things.
To the Lenni-Lenape, the river was a place of coming together, where people fished, swam, and conversed. That difference in perception heralded more serious problems, and by century's end, the tribe was in full retreat.
I photographed the Delaware River for many years before learning of the Lenni-Lenape perspective, but when I did, I felt a spark of recognition. That's how I've always felt about the river, and like the original inhabitants, I sense the river as an entity unto itself, a force as well as a place.
I try to capture with my camera tales the river tells, whether that's a line of trees back-lit by sunlight on hills, spooky shapes formed by waves, or man-made fabrics washed around a branch or tangled in river stones.
Ol' River Glory
I don't feed or clothe myself from the river, as the natives did, but when I walk along the banks or glide in a kayak, I feel part of the flow, almost as though I can sense the river's perspective, seeing the world from river level.
That's a view most visitors don't get driving through scenic towns and glimpsing the water between houses-or even buzzing along in a power boat. The view most of us grew up with looks at the river as something different, though beautiful. Now, having spent so much time there, walking, floating, and photographing, I look up at houses and trees as though from the river itself.
Another difference between the "river view" and the "street view" is the sound. There's plenty of noise along the water – birds and insects chattering, water flowing (sometimes like a jet during floods), and wind rustling leaves-but the river sounds quiet me. The street is all about engines and hurrying to a faster pace.
When I see fishermen haunting the banks with little fires burning long after dark, I believe that sense of the river is part of what draws them. So, if you're visiting the area or live here year-round, seek it out.
Everyone's a visitor of sorts along the river, witness to long years and long vistas. Next time you're in the Delaware Valley, find a way to spend some hours there to soak up the feeling. I can tell you, it lasts a long while.
There are plenty of ways to get close to the water. The Delaware Canal runs from Easton to Bristol, Pa., bordered by a 12-foot-wide towpath perched between the canal and the river. Throughout the 19th Century, mules walked the towpath pulling low barges filled with coal, timber, food, and commercial products. Though slow, the canal carried essential goods cheaply and easily.
Today, the canal and towpath are maintained as historical reminders. The towpath offers an excellent route for walking or biking. However, recent floods have damaged some portions, so ask around before you venture out. At the very least, walk with care where the surface has eroded down to uneven stones. Usually, you can walk through damaged portions, or if on a bike, dismount and walk by.
There are boat ramps on both sides of the river where you can back your trailer down to the water and unload a kayak, canoe, or power boat. Getting out on the water is a great way to adopt a river's-eye view for awhile.
And if you don't have a boat, you can rent one-or even a giant inner tube-from organizations along the river. Most let you start at one location get picked up at another, then be bused back. That way, there's no worry about returning to your car. You can also rent bikes in several river towns and ride on trails along both sides of the river.
Frenchtown, N.J., is a particularly nice place to rent a bike. You can head north or south along a trail that extends for miles, and the town itself is a lot of fun, with book stores, galleries, restaurants, and antique shops.
Cycle Corner of Frenchtown
52 Bridge Street
Frenchtown, NJ. 08825
Mountain River Outfitters
287 S. Main St.
New Hope Cyclery
186 Old York Rd.
New Hope, Pa.
Bucks County River Country
2 Walters Lane
Point Pleasant, Pa. 18950
Delaware River Tubing
2998 Daniel Bray Hwy
Frenchtown, N.J. 08825-3011