Of time and the river, not the novel by Thomas Wolfe, rather the image and symbol in Lucy Gayheart. I’ve returned to Cather again, always Cather. Of time and the river in Gayheart, we can say this. It cuts a path in the earth. Youth finds itself on one bank, and the aging find themselves on the other. As water surges and passes, so all things, too, pass—strength, ardor, hope. Because youth is innocent of the river’s shifting currents and the ocean into which it eventually feeds, life “trembles like a tuning fork with unimaginable possibilities.” In the opening scenes of Gayheart, Lucy is skating on a frozen river as though she’s preparing for flight into the adventuresome unknown. Note her slender crimson wings; note them well, for they’ll return by story’s end. Lucy does indeed take off from that frozen tarmac in Nebraska. She leaves Haverford, the parochial town of her youth, and lands in Chicago to study music where she falls in love, of the youthful passionate variety, with an older man, a good and decent man, and a famous classical vocalist, too. Sebastian shares the same passion for art and music. Lucy is on one side of the river and Sebastian is on the other. Very briefly they bridge the gap, but it doesn’t last long. The famous vocalist leaves for Europe where he’s in high demand for a lengthy tour. Lucy returns to Haverford, depressed, alone, and misunderstood. Gossip swirls around her dubious tryst in Chicago. In a bout anger and frustration, she sets off for the Platte River with her ice skates, not knowing the river had changed its bed the prior spring and is no longer safe. She laces up and sets out on the river, and then it happens, the ice cracks, Lucy slips into the water up to her waist. The cracked sheet of ice she’s holding on to tips gently and lowers her into the river. Worried, her dad sets off with a neighbor for the Platte, and from the bank of the river, in the gathering darkness, they spy a red scarf on rotten broken ice, Lucy’s crumpled wings. She is drowned.
wherein life trembles like a tuning fork