I’ve spent the last few days on rivers – The Severn and The Avon. I grew up near the Severn, longing to get into the water by any means, but unable to do so. She’s a magical river, home to the goddess Sabrina. There was a Roman temple to Nodens on her banks, no doubt other temples too and she has seen human activity since there were humans around. She’s also a fickle, moody, changeable river, which makes her dangerous, and every so often she takes a blood sacrifice. The Severn kills.
Simply being afloat and on the river was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience for me. You see the world differently at water level, familiar cities and landscapes came at me very differently. Travelling at the slow speed of a narrowboat, I also saw a lot of wildlife – kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, an abundance of ducks and swans as well and lots of trees. It’s been a beautiful few days.
So, what have I learned? That I want longer ropes on the boat, for one. But on a spiritual level, it’s harder to pin down. I saw mist on the flood meadows where sheep and cattle have been grazed for thousands of years. I saw ducks sleeping afloat, ours the first boat in the early morning, catching the river as it is before the people come. People, boats, and noise change everything. Most of the time we don’t even get a glimpse of what life is like without us. But I had a little of that – a sense of the lives lived beyond human awareness, the secret lives of creatures and plants. I want to be a smaller, quieter presence, better able to blend in, to move amongst other living things without frightening them off. What I really want is to be on the river at dawn, in a canoe or coracle, paddling quietly, making few ripples, not breaking the air with sound. That would be true magic.
The more I think about this as an ideal, the more I feel it’s how I want to move through the world all of the time – as unobtrusively as I can, catching glimpses of those other worlds and existences. Going slowly enough to be able to see them, quietly enough to hear them, taking the time to look, and the care to notice. I think there is always more to see, deeper to go, and I wonder how much further I can take my own understandings in my day to day living.