Owls Along the Rhine

I’ve been in Germany for a week, and I can’t help noticing the owls.  Owls everywhere; owls on postcards and t-shirts and pocketbooks; owl statues made of glass and marble and wood and metal.  I arrived here in the motherland on Mother’s Day.  My great-grandmother left Germany 100 years ago, on a boat, to find her new life in America.  I’m on a boat.  My mother collects — wait, collected — owls.  You see where these things go.


Sometimes it seems I’m so focused on the women in the story, I forget to consider the men.

Last night our riverboat set sail after dark, up the Rhine.  When we turned in, it was freezing out but I opened our window anyway and wrapped myself in a blanket and watched the cities go by.  I grew up along the Mississippi River, but I don’t remember ever being out on the river at night.  The river was dark and scary, even in the light, and my grandfather who piloted riverboats for decades warned me off the water.  “The river is dangerous,” he would say.  “You don’t know what can happen out there.”  But last night I was all grown up and on the river in the dark, watching the lights of the cities and power plants and country houses along the bank, listening to the quiet swirls of the dark, brown water … and I wondered about my grandfather.  I knew him hard and sharp-tongued and cruel and angry, and then, in the end, silenced.  I picture him 50 years ago, out along the rails of a tug, the place where he was captain and king, leaning with false, quiet bravado out over the water, cigarette in hand, listening to the same swirling water, and I wondered, for maybe the first time in my 48 years, who he was, and who he’d wanted to be.

This morning, the owls were back.  But my grandfather was there, too.



18 thoughts on “Owls Along the Rhine

  1. Averil Dean

    “I picture him 50 years ago, out along the rails of a tug, the place where he was captain and king, leaning with false, quiet bravado out over the water, cigarette in hand, listening to the same swirling water, and I wondered, for maybe the first time in my 48 years, who he was, and who he’d wanted to be.”

    There’s always so much story in the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Could be another one here, waiting for you to write it.

    Also, I miss you.

  2. Joe Ponepinto

    What a wonderful image, and what a beautiful insight, to understand the passion behind the hard exterior of your grandfather. There is always a story other than the one well known.

    I do have to ask, since I have a friend who did the river cruise thing… Are you the youngest people on the boat by, say, 20 to 30 years? My friend’s stories of their river cruise scared my wife and me off the idea.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh dear, Joe. I could write an essay (and probably will) on this whole cruise-thing. It’s been nice enough, but it’s such an antiseptic way to see the world, and god knows I hate to have a schedule on vacation and to be told what we’re doing everyday. I’m glad we did it, because we’re traveling with our very fun and irreverent neighbors (we’ve also added a young Aussie couple to our group) so we have our pack of trouble, but …. we are BY FAR the youngest on the boat. I doubt we will ever do it again, even when we’re old enough. 😉

      1. Joe Ponepinto

        I’m glad you have at least a few “young” people on the boat to make trouble with. It can be pretty rough having to go to bed at 9 every night. 🙂

      2. Downith

        We just got home from a play – we left at the intermission because it was so bad, after giggling through the first half – where we were by far the youngest in the audience. I feel like a rebellious teenager – am going to go out behind the woodshed and sneak a smoke now.

  3. amyg

    i love the image of your grandpa traveling down the river. so…americana, right?

    i found a picture yesterday, i’m no more than three years old snuggled up in the crook of my grandpa’s arm while he’s reclining on the couch. i’m definitely asleep, and he appears to be as well, with his right arm slung over the top of his head, a lit cigarette between two fingers. it’s one of my favorite pics now.

  4. donnaeve

    This was beautiful writing, Teri… the trip sounds beautiful too – and I’m sure the words you’re sharing here are because of what you are seeing/feeling.

      1. donnaeve

        I wondered about them…do you board them? I feel “stuck” sometimes b/c my little guy came to me with so much baggage. He is a one person dog. Will have very little to do with my husband, and nothing to do with anyone else. He won’t eat for anyone, but me. We’ve got to work on him b/c even a weekend a way at this point is out of the question. Even the vet says he’s a high stress dog. But…, he’s come a long way from where he was 18 months ago.

      2. Teri Post author

        I’ve had similar issues with past dogs. Your best bet is to ask someone from your vet’s office! Most of them dog/cat sit and they know how to manage animals with issues.

      3. donnaeve

        That’s a great idea. No idea why I hadn’t thought of it. 🙂 And he doesn’t eat, then at least someone knows how to stick an IV in him!

    1. Teri Post author

      Ha! I wrote this post then asked my husband (who was basically with me every minute) if he’d noticed all the owls. And that would be a “no.”

  5. Jeff Vandeven

    Teri, I’ve done the cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Koblenz. It started amazing. Seeing the first castle was fantastic, then the second and the third and the forth and fifth and on and on. I suddenly realized that castles are only rare in the states and everyday in Europe. I have 50+ photos of castles on the Rhine and never really look at them.

    You and I grew up next to one of the most amazing and important rivers in the US and we seldom or only saw it on the way to the Quarry. (local reference) I wonder if it’s the same for the people that live along the Rhine.

    I guess the gist of what I’m saying is that you can have a romantic idea of other places in this world only to finally realize that people in other countries may be having the same thought about where you live.

    I did enjoy the cruise and the overnight stop in Assmanshausen. I bought a t-shirt there because of course it just said Assmanhausen across the chest.

    Sorry if I soiled your blog with this story. I really enjoy your writing. I saw no owls.

    1. Teri Post author

      Happy to see you here, Buck. I hear you —- one of my favorite things about traveling is not seeing how different everything is, but how the same we really are.

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