River Teign

On the Prophets of Rock and Wave workshop with Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw we were sent out in ceremony on the land with the invitation to explore how we might write the world from the perspective of other beings.

The river sweeps past beneath my feet. A burbling song rises from the water, always the same, always changing: a high flutter of surf, a bell note of hollow wave. It grasps my consciousness, so I linger alongside, watching and listening. Oily browns and blues roll over each other on the surface. Wavelets peak with a touch of white, then sink back – coming, going, coming, going. Where rocks lurk, a smooth torrent pours under a foaming standing wave.

Branches, twigs, and leaves of an alder sapling reach over water, suspended in a delicate lattice. I hold the little tree steady in my gaze, the river rushes behind, on and on without pause. Giddy between stillness and movement, it’s like the game we played as children, spinning ourselves until the world’s a blur, rushing round and round us. How long could we stay upright before collapsing on the floor?

If I allow the giddiness to unfocus me, I might fall. Maybe I want to fall, maybe the river is calling me to fall. But I gather myself back on the bank, watch, listen, staying long enough to settle in, to rest and pay respects, to feel my way into the flow.

The wind gusts up, shimmering the sapling, blowing brown autumn leaves from tall beeches on the far bank. They alight on the surface, then whisk off downstream. It is still again. A sweet smell of woodsmoke fills the air.

I walk upstream a little way, stand leaning against a tree by the edge of the bank. I sing to the river.  I sing loudly, old songs, beating out the rhythm on my thighs, “The river she is flowing, flowing and growing… Mother Earth carry me down to the sea.”.

The river flowing through me, trees rustling me, I am singing the river. My eyes relax, I lose focus; water and wind sound in my ears; the tree trunk holds steady. The water rushing past, the trees stirring in the wind, this human singing on the bank draw together into one being. Words disappear, difference disappears, into a space with no separate entities, no subjects or objects, a field of presence.

The spell breaks. Maybe I am drawn too deep. I want to stay with oneness, but I am frightened, maybe. Something pulls me back. My eyes re-focus on the leaves of a low hanging branch. River, trees, leaves pick up separate identities. Being at one evaporates like mist, as if it were never there. But a faint trace persists in my memory.

I stay by the tree, singing again, consciously unfocussing my eyes, reaching back for the oneness. And while the perception does not return, the memory is strengthened, anchored in consciousness, just like you can hold onto a dream image if you lie still on the pillow for a while on waking.

I walk back along the river bank and up the road to the hostel, holding these faint memories and wondering if I will find words to do them justice.