August 2015 The River

I love walking along the river at the bottom of my garden. Well it's not exactly at the bottom of my garden, my garden’s not that big actually.  But if I cross the road that runs past the front door and walk down the footpath alongside the field I come to my river and it's like entering a different world.  The sound of the water, the green untidy riverbanks and always, always a surprise.  The fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher, a jumping salmon, a lumbering heron, stately swans on an evening glide, busy sand martins dive-bombing the water, a mob of sparrows perfectly camouflaged in the hedges until startled.  Once, yes really, there was a cow climbing the sandy river cliff. Why?  To get to the top I presume.  It had a lot of lowing support and interested encouragement from the rest of the herd on high.


I love the way I can leave my front door and go to the river anytime I want and it's always lovely and always different. Today it wears a rushing torrent fast flowing, white waved, and carrying dead tree trunks and branches to wash up on shore at the bend.  In spring it is gentle and full, the silver water flowing generously past green meadows flush with yellow buttercups or purple thistle, the riverbanks edged with lacy white may blossom.  Sometimes it's so shallow the pied wagtails barely get their feathers wet as they bob and wade in its waters and every pebble on the river bed shines and glistens in polished black and brown and silvers and greys like a inspiration board for a new high end tweed.  That's when the village children come down and wade in to their calves and dam the river with the biggest stones they can move.  It's a community effort, doubtless passed on down the generations, and it takes a few days of the summer holidays to get it right; but when it's done the river is tamed by children for a few weeks and deigns to flow gently round the corner into a pool constantly replenished and constantly flowing over the pebble dam.  And there the children paddle and play and splash and fish with nets and catch tiny little fishlings that swim confusedly round and round in small plastic buckets, stared at by huge round eyes until released once again to the river’s flow. The dam is washed away in a night of heavy rain and the river begins to swell again until its flowing full and free.  That's the time the young men in their green coats and wellies go wandering across the field to secret corners of the river and come back alone in the dark with their pockets bulging.  Like them we’ll draw a cloak of darkness over that.


In the winter, in the rain, the river fills and expands, breathes out and grows.  The path by the river is claimed by the water, forcing walkers to climb higher and make new paths, climbing fences, exploring new ground.  Finally the river overflows it's bank turning the field into a lake and attracting flocks of ducks quacking in pride to find such a luxurious new home, however temporary.  The snow falls and the river's green lushness is forgotten as the river shows off its monochrome beauty.  Black water flows between white banks, the trees and branches etched in darkest brown and slate grey. The only contrast - the occasional drops of red from hips and haws or a robin's brave song from his topmost stark branch.


No one's tried to tame our river or box it in with concrete or divert it's excess water with culverts or constrain its banks with concrete. Our river is not made to our measurements and required to flow where we lead it.  It takes its own course and moulds the landscape to itself.  Our river is not  a tamed river.  So don't expect it to be the same as it was in a different season.  Don't expect it to be the same next year. Don’t expect to see the same river twice. It will always be there - but whether as a raging torrent, a flood that engulfs the land or a silver ribbon for children to play in is beyond our control.


It reminds me of how God is.