“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psalm 46:4)



Hackelbarney is a popular state park about a 30-minute drive from where I live. The Black River winds through the park, as do two tributaries, Rhinehart and Trout Brooks. I picnicked there with my family and friends when I was young, but didn’t return again until about ten years ago.

When I read the prompt, “River/Soul,” I thought I‘d take an afternoon to explore Hackelbarney while keeping those words in the forefront of my thoughts. However, the weather, my schedule, and my energy levels have not cooperated in the past month, so I simply scrolled through photos from the comfort of my desk at home. I have often shot pictures on my hikes and had plenty to revisit!

The park has steep climbs on well-marked paths, and other paths that are rocky and less defined. Hikers can climb out into the river on boulders, overlooking waterfalls, something I’ve done. Seeing the river rush past the boulders can be dizzying and exhilarating — a seat of honor, an invitation to risk – then rest upon – what nature offers to those who dare.



Here, the river rushes over the boulders exuberantly. Sunlight pierces the canopy high overhead and creates brilliant refractions in the coursing current. Veils cover the tumbled bedrock, wearing grooves over the surfaces but hardly displacing them.

Further down, the river is wider and shallower. Gentle whirlpools and lazy drifts meander around fallen leaves, branches, and mud. It’s possible to cross on the dry tops of the rocks, from the path alongside to small mud bars and tiny islands.

It’s a good place to dip bare feet into the water, chilly even in the summer heat. Here, I imagine the river is content, enjoying the nooks and crannies, bending around the forest waste it contains.

I’ve walked through these woods, feeling small below the canopy, with cover so thick I can’t tell if it’s still raining or if the sprinkles I feel are just roll-off from a storm earlier in the day. Water trapped between the covering above and the rushing river below creates a second atmosphere, a hybrid of humidity.



Boulders litter the side of the mountain and form steps and bumps for people, for the river, and as a base that keeps the tree roots pressed into the earth, steady. Some of the trees have fallen and remain held in the branches like loved ones needing help.

I feel a part of the deep history of our planet here. I envision glaciers receding, dragging these boulders across the mud, scarring the land and creating this magical playground. And I feel the hush of the forest, but also the movement of birds and critters and insects; I sense the energy among the trees, connected by their intricate root system.

The river keeps running, but without gravity’s energy, the river would be a lake. Working in harmony with the environment, the rush carves a new groove, sometimes diverting around obstacles. There are times it’s spread thin and times it’s a powerful torrent. Sometimes it’s a free-fall of gauzy ribbons or gurgling chatter, like a sheet of bubble wrap over stones. It has safe limits. If it overflows, it damages everything around with floodwaters. It runs deep and shallow depending on rain and snowfall.



I remember all the places along the river, what each terrain shows me about its nature — about God’s nature in my faith journey. My memories of this river are familiar, the way this Scripture is:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. (Psalm 46:4-5)

While I know the city of God in this verse refers to Jerusalem, I often turn to this passage and envision myself as that city. A city supplied and protected by a river and streams. A holy place where God dwells, where I am strengthened and protected by God himself. When I remember that river, I also recall the words a few verses later, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) My soul is well.

Questions For Reflection

1. When you read the words river and soul, what comes to mind?

2. Is there a place that draws you closer to God? What do you feel when you’re there? What are your best memories of being in that place?

3. Is there a Scripture passage linked to that place? Which one? Why? 

Michelle Ortega

Michelle Ortega

Michelle is a speech-language pathologist in New Jersey. Her writing has been published online and in print, at Tweetspeak Poetry, Casual (an e-book), Tiferet Journal, Exit 13, Shrew LitMag, Contemporary Haibun Online, Snapdragon: A Journal of Healing, The Platform Review, and abroad in Horizon: The Haiku Anthology. Her chapbook, Don’t Ask Why, with Seven Kitchens Press, was published August, 2020, and her microchapbook, Tissue Memory, with Porkbelly Press  in 2021.

Holy Attention

Sight & Scroll • Spot 1 • Feast

Begin by choosing something specific – a color, shape, sound, object, or even an idea – and look or listen for it throughout your day. When you find it, take a picture of it, or make note of it.

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