Friday, 3 December 2010

The river

I just wanted to post this here in case it disappears.

A river is not merely a geographical fact - this much I know. Its mud, shoals, willows and locks, its gravel and its forever changing waters are alive for sure; but this is not the river’s only life. The river lives in our collective consciousness and those without rivers are poorer people. The streams of childhood become the channels in men’s minds and we are drawn back to them time upon time. They become symbols of the land and of the nation, of connection and place – the romance of the sea but a romance which is wholly ours.

At its most prosaic the river is a boundary, at its most practical it is a resource. For my mother it is the ‘dark water’ (an object of fear) and indeed for others it is a killer and a grave. For me the river is a journey, for unlike the road it has direction; and that direction is onwards, always onwards to the sea – to the river’s end.

A Journey

Lying back in the boat with eyes closed the boat spins us in lazy circles, brushing the thick reed beds first with the worn brass of the bow and then with the delicate Malaysian mahogany of the rudder. The steering lines hand loose but our coxswain, unable to lie down and bothered by a lingering sense of responsibility shifts uneasily in his seat. He is something in the city I believe. The city is Genève but we’ve never been entirely sure what the thing is, so we entertain ourselves with ideas of international espionage.

The river is quiet and meanders through open countryside. Nothing, it seems, has ever happened here beyond the passing of small boats (perhaps even with lovers) and the ever-watchful cattle. But beneath the surface, perhaps even beneath our feet, are the thousands of tiny artefacts which the river conceals. Some remain hidden for millennia while others, like goods stacked on an overloaded cart, are slewed out upon the muddy banks.

Gary Nelmes

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