Our River

We were inland children; we knew nothing of the tides or the ocean.
The river running through our land is woven into our lives and we learn with our scrutiny,
the depth of our experience outweighing the lack of width. We know our river is connected
to an intricate pattern of lakes and bigger rivers that finally flow into the vast Atlantic
In May, a suffusion of orchids, bluebells, cookoo flowers, primroses, buttercups, and marsh
marigolds grow along the bank and we pick them for the May Altar offering them to Our
Lady as precious gifts. We know every detail of that river as it passes through our land.
Beyond the mearing fences, the river becomes foreign to us.
We hold small cupped hands in the water and feel it run through our fingers with shivery
delight. The water is yellow but so clear we could count each stone on the riverbed if we
wanted and it sparkles in the sunlight.
We define the river into three main play areas, the widest part with the stepping-stones into
the meadow, the water flowing swiftly, a gap in the middle that must be jumped and leads
to skinned toes. The narrowest and deepest part near the mearing fence is used for jumping
games. Just across the road from our house is our favourite spot, this is the part with sandy
edges and shallow water where we paddle and splash and ceremoniously serve sandy cakes
on wide leaves from the Lords and Ladies plant.
This watery world is framed by whitethorn, columbine, wild honeysuckle which we bite in
search of nectar, meadowsweet, mists of cow parsley, ferns unfurling and we live in terror
of falling into nettles and we scramble for dock leaves if we succumb to the stings.
We lie in the long grass that shimmers in a haze of yellows, greens, gold and mauves and
dangle our feet in the water. The sun warm on our faces, glittering days that come from
heaven with clear skies and time seems frozen. We examine clouds, we don’t yet know
words such as Cumulus, or Stratus or Cirrus but when we do, we have all the pictures to
match them. We follow their movement across the sky interspersed with occasional
Jetstream and we dream of going on an aeroplane one day to America maybe. There is the
occasional hum of a tractor mowing grass in the distance but mostly it is the steady creaking
of cartwheels we hear on the sandy road. When the setting sun tinges the world with
amber, we reluctantly leave the river.
The river is not just our play area, we bring home the cows for milking and let them drink as
much as they will, knowing not to interrupt them, and fetching water from the river for the
animals and the household is quotidian. We fetch water from our well too, and we can
identify our neighbours wells also by the taste of the water.
The birds accompany us, the swallows returning and forming the backdrop to the summer
with their swooping and diving in and out of the barn. We love to hear the first cuckoo,
though we are dismayed by her theft and laziness.
The winter comes with storms and flooding, the river is now a torrent to us and we are both
fearful and excited to see this gushing water where once we paddled and we are warned to
keep away.
The river in all its guises is ours and we know it will be there tomorrow and the next day…