The Most Incredible Sentence I Could Write

I sat on a tree trunk that had fallen on the bank of a river, where a barely noticeable breeze flowed around me, accompanied by the steady gurgle of a stream, while the sun pressed its warmth against me like a mother bear might console its cubs.

I was trying to inspire myself to write an opening sentence for a short story, but as I looked at the natural, unprovoked beauty before me on this warm, fall day, I was distracted by my insistence on intruding upon it. Any word or statement that I could write seemed too trite, too contrived. Any attempt to look harder or deeper could not penetrate the simple magnificence of what I saw.

A fish swam through a bed of weeds. A bird twitted from the branches of a tree. A small turtle basked in the sun while an insect buzzed over some mud that had dried on the side of the bank.

Could I capture all of this in a sentence? Could I even capture a part of it – a glimpse, an image – that would do it justice?  Would words even be sufficient to convey what I thought I saw – such a timeless infinity, such a perfect harmony, such a limitless reverie?

To some – perhaps to most – this wasn’t a moment to be cherished or exalted, but a sequence of actions that followed in repetition. The stream gurgled, the bugs hovered, the sun warmed – until they changed. Then it was a new moment that resulted from a shuffling of some of the components. It was still beautiful, but in a different way. Did that destroy the beauty of that first moment, or merely brighten it, deepen it, rearrange it?

I saw the change, but it was a transformation, not a destruction. The old was gone, but the new had blossomed from it—not risen from its decay. I did not wish to keep it from changing anymore than I wished to keep a rose from blooming when it was ready.

Was this what kept me from finding my voice, the reluctance to confine this natural cacophony to one moment, to freeze the continuous change into an unchanging image? It seemed like trying to paint a picture of a starburst or playing only one note of a song – it left so much unsaid; it told so little of what was a much grander moment.

As I put my pen to my notebook, a bear lumbered from the woods a scant twenty yards away, walking purposefully to the stream – for a fish? For a drink? For just the coolness of the water in the heat of the day?

It made me pause, as the bear attracted my immediate attention. Would I be of interest to it, as an intruder or adversary? Its head turned in my direction as it waded into the shallow stream, then a thick, cleansing swipe of its tongue licked across its extended jaw before its head dipped close to the water to pluck a fish from the stream which was then hoisted into its mouth.  The fish was consumed in two or three quick chomps, leaving no trace of its once-agile visage.

Was that the moment I sought in my writer’s mind – the bear eating? The quick conversion of fish in the stream to meal of a predator who neither asked nor apologized for its indulgence? Or was it the harmony of these elements – the ebb and flow of opportunity and escape that struck in flashes too many to count?

Yes! I knew the verse I wished to capture! I dipped the focus of my eyes to my notebook and quickly scribbled a long, poignant sentence that sang from my heart like an anthem, that gathered into words like lyrics to a song, that spoke like an actor who said just the right thing at just the right time.

It was there—in my head, in my thoughts, on the page.  The opening sentence with which I meant to amaze my reader, to touch his sensitivities and guide him deeper into the story, that would lure his thirst for more like a quenching beverage. As I reread it, I had written the most incredible sentence I could imagine. It beamed back at me as I savored it. It glowed in all its magnificence.

But I was mesmerized by my triumph, and neglected the rest of the world around me. I heard a huffing, running presence as it labored toward me. It was the bear! I was in time to quickly, heedlessly jump to my feet in instant panic and throw my notebook and pen into the air as I ran.

The bear stopped, seeing that I had been sufficiently chased from its territory, and it sat on its haunches to lick the last bits of fish from its mouth as it sat on my notebook, covering the sentence that would forever be lost among the moments of time—a part of history, gone, never to be relived or known by another.