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Dr. Withington’s River Rat Essay…

What actually makes you a River Rat?

A while ago, I ran into an old fellow who was reputed locally to be a "River Rat".

Having nothing better to do, I asked him, "I have known others, older than you, who apparently are not River Rats. Just what is it that distinguishes you from them? What actually makes you a "River Rat”?

He paused, scratched his chin, kicked a little sand, and said, "Maybe it’s because of the way I see things. "Without further prompting he began to explain.

I look at the River, and I see a teacher:

It shows me that "slow and steady" is a good pace for life. The River doesn't hurry, but it seems to get where “it's going".

It shows me how to treat everyone the same. River doesn't much seem to care who you are. Everybody that gets in. gets wet.

It shows me how to be humble. If I put my arm in the water, it makes room for me, but when I remove the arm, it's as if it was never there. If someone intrudes into your life and makes you unhappy, you should remember the event just like the River does. Once it is gone, it is like it never happened. The River goes right back to the way it was before; not a bad example for us to follow.

I look at the River and I see a provider:

It is my air conditioner in summer heat. In winter, it moderated the cold.

It can provide my food

Its plants and weeds give oxygen to the air I breathe. 

It can provide exercise and recreation for all of us at once.

It can be strong enough to carry the world's commerce on its back, and still be gentle the kiss of dew on a rosebud.

When agitated, it can be violent and destructive, but it does so without anger or emotion. Again, when the storm passes, it carries no bitterness, but goes back to just as it was before. 

Some people look for beauty around the world. I have seen enough to know that there isn't any area more scenic or more splendid than what the River shows us. I have seen the sun and moon reflected in the ripples as a day begins or ends. Other vistas may be as spectacular, but to my eye, nothing beats it...and it is right here for us lucky ones to enjoy.


Some may look for peace; sacred writings are a common place to look. The lucky ones find what they are looking for. Others simply find directions. "If you do the following things, you will find peace. The River is different. It doesn't tell you where to go or whom to ask. It simply provides the peace you seek. No questions asked. It is there for the taking, but you have to be willing to see it. Those who can -  are River Rats.

The River Rat, stopped and then carried on… 

I chuckle a the politically pushy feminists who pointedly refer to God as "She".  I guess I don't see God as either He or She. To do so implies the ability to reproduce. My God may be better described by the Native American concept of the Great Spirit - One that is solitary, supreme, and not bothered by the necessity to produce a bunch of little Great Spirits.

The River is the tangible expression of the fourth dimension, i.e.. time.

Like time,  the River is constantly moving and changing. Yet we see it as looking the same each day. In fact, like time it exists only in the moment. The drops of water that passed here today will be replaced by others tomorrow. Whether they will ever travel to the sea, evaporate, fall as rain, and become River again, is not for us to know. Just as we know not if the time that passed today will ever be revisited. Some religious philosophies see that as a possibility,

I don't see the River as my God, but the River is a means of communication, If I look at the River, I don't see God, but if I look carefully, I see what God wants to show me of Itself. It is not like a "Tom Tom" navigator for the path of life. It doesn’t say "Do this; don't do that". Rather it shows me the big picture. "This River is here to show you how you might pattern your life; learn from it and find happiness.

That's what the old River Rat said. I think he answered my question.......but I still have to think about it.

By Richard L. Withington, Round Island

Richard L. Withington, M.D. is a retired Orthopedic Surgeon and lives year-round at “Rivercroft” on Round Island.  TI Life subscribers always enjoy Dr. Withington’s articles.  He has a way of making his life on the island, no matter what season, exciting.  This is his tenth article, to see all you can search under the author’s life for Richard L. Withington.

Editor’s Note:  Be sure to leave a comment if you have a special definition for being a River Rat…


Posted in: Nature
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Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 10:42 AM Saturday, September 15, 2012
Doc, you are a treasure! The River is very fortunate to have you.
Comment by: ela ( )
Left at: 11:37 AM Saturday, September 15, 2012
You may be interested in getting stories of JN - a very colourful character. I lost track of him over the years, but remember that he was brought up in Gananoque. He ran a fishing/hunting operation, mostly for the American visitors.
Best Wishes
Kathleen Quigley
Comment by: Kathleen Quigley ( )
Left at: 11:38 AM Saturday, September 15, 2012
What a profound story!
Lee LaVanchard (Raines)
Comment by: Lee LaVanchard (Raines) ( )
Left at: 3:57 PM Saturday, September 15, 2012
A wonderful story from a true "river rat"
Jan Arno
Comment by: Jan Arno ( )
Left at: 12:18 AM Sunday, September 16, 2012
So enjoy all your stories!
Comment by: Hil ( )
Left at: 8:29 AM Sunday, September 16, 2012
Took me awhile to get past the politlcally pushy malinists that kept referring to God as a "He," (not that there's anything individually wrong with that :0) and have also found that the Native American concepts are Great in Spirit and inclusive of all souls on Turtle Island. Thank you, Dr. Withington, for spreading the good words to river rats one and all!
Ralph Denning
Comment by: Ralph Denning ( )
Left at: 4:19 PM Sunday, September 16, 2012
Thank you Dr. Dick for a great article and a great outlook on the river and life. Especially enjoyed this line:

"This River is here to show you how you might pattern your life; learn from it and find happiness."

Have enjoyed all your articles, but this one is special!

Amy Kane Phelps
Comment by: Amy Kane Phelps ( )
Left at: 10:59 PM Sunday, September 16, 2012
What a wonderful article, Dr. Withington. I see my God, neither male or female, in our River each and every day, rain or shine. Thank you for sharing your River Rat article with us. May we all see and aspire to the humility your River Rat sees in this beautiful place!!
Terry Flesch
Comment by: Terry Flesch ( )
Left at: 8:08 AM Monday, September 17, 2012
Thanks for a beautiful, thought-provoking description of how a River Rat might feel about the River. For me, the beauty of the River (I acknowledge it as God's creation - as there is no way something this beautiful happened by accident!) points me to God and I cannot thank Him enough for the gift of the River and for allowing me to see it, swim in it and enjoy it and the life that abounds in and around it. I am at peace when I am near it. A few years ago, I had to sell our place in the islands and I was downright depressed not to be able to be on the River. I am glad to say we are back with a new, smaller place and I am thankful and blessed!
Comment by: Susie ( )
Left at: 9:51 AM Monday, September 17, 2012
I spent all my childhood summers at my family summer home on the River, and still return every summer. I always find inner peace when I am there. I looked at real estate this past summer (in the hope of creating a place that could have been a part of my childhood),and the realtor told me that I am a true River Rat. When I asked what her definiton was, she told me that it means that your diapers were washed in the River. That is definitely true for me, but I prefer the explanation in this article to dirty diapers!!
Wayne Strauss
Comment by: Wayne Strauss ( )
Left at: 9:57 AM Monday, September 17, 2012
True indeed! I don’t know what makes a rat a Rat, but have experienced the effect of being drawn inexorably, insatiably and inescapably to the River for a lifetime. No temptation or distraction has proven more powerful than the desire to return at the next possible moment. I consider the River both my wise, protective brother and my beautiful sister.
Jean Cougler
Comment by: Jean Cougler ( )
Left at: 10:08 AM Monday, September 17, 2012
WOW what a fabulous writing that tells how us RIVER RATS feel..
loved every bit of what he wrote and saying it like it is. Thanks
Renee' Futch
Comment by: Renee' Futch ( )
Left at: 12:23 PM Wednesday, September 19, 2012
All my Life I have lived on the water. I love your Essay and how you think. As children we dont think about the fishing and swimming, eating the food that comes from our great waters. Seeing the birds come and go as seasons pass. Watching the water carve out paths and change our lands. I married and Comm: Fisherman who was born 6 generations to the water, Ive lost, to two hurricane floods. Our love for the water when we clean and restore gets stronger every time we are tested. when someone ask me why do you build back there? move away from the water!!I say would you drop your Faith or leave your family behind? "No" I tell them this is my home, the water is my backyard. When I get up to go to work , I open my front door and walk to my boat. Thank you for such a great reminder.
Karen Hungerford
Comment by: Karen Hungerford ( )
Left at: 12:48 PM Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Thank you Doc! I have been always disappionted that I was not to be considered a "RiverRat" because I was not born here. But after 38 years of loving and profoundly missing the River every minute I am away-this makes me very happy to consider that this to be true.
Comment by: Tish ( )
Left at: 2:22 PM Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Doc. You are one of a kind and I am so happy to know you.
Ken McClellan
Comment by: Ken McClellan ( )
Left at: 7:42 AM Monday, September 24, 2012
What a wonderful article. I fell in love with the river four years ago and travel the river every summer. Discovering new and beautiful places with family and friends. The river supplies such peace of mind for all who seek it out. Yes, Iam a proud river rat.

Kenneth D McClellan MD
Meg Meyer
Comment by: Meg Meyer ( )
Left at: 10:40 AM Sunday, October 14, 2012
This is wonderful. I always considered myself a river rat. I spent all summer here until I was 16 (and stayed home in Buffalo to be in the summer musical). I still spend as much time as I can at our cottage. So, while not born here, I grew up on the river. I constantly call the 1000 Islands "my piece of heaven". And to me, it is as close as I can get on earth. So, to me, a river rat is someone who grew up on the river (in one form or another)! Thanks for writing!
Jocelyn Merritt
Comment by: Jocelyn Merritt ( )
Left at: 11:25 AM Thursday, January 9, 2014
Just read this!! Fabulous! I grew up on the river and finally moved here 14 years ago. Beautiful description and oh, so true about the River being a teacher.
Comment by: MSMiget
Left at: 2:06 AM Tuesday, March 10, 2015
..a truly inspirational commentary of life on the river...