“Have you ever wondered if you could actually walk on water?” Almost the first glimpse of the river looked as if a pathway through the grass continued, uninterrupted across the water, which might have explained the odd musing as we sat watching the water flow through the valley. My companion responded with an emphatic ‘no’. I expanded the idea, not wishing to be seen as any weirder than usual. I wasn’t speaking from a personal perspective. Many cultures have tales in their religious or mythological streams of such miraculous occurrences, from Orion and Huang-Po to Jesus, in Hindu and Native American tales, where water becomes a pathway for the footsteps of those who transcend the human condition.Theoretically, I mused, it should be possible. As we create our worlds through our own belief, if we have absolute faith in our reality and truly believe that something is attainable. It would need more than a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ though. It would need utter and unshakeable conviction. I wasn’t about to try, of course. The water, catching the light on its surface might look solid enough in places, but I knew for certain I would only end up very wet and ridiculous; not the state of mind I was envisioning in my philosophical meanderings. Even in theory you could see there was no room for the merest hint of doubt… doubt would imply an acceptance that water is wet and its surface tension too fragile for our presence. Physics would overtake metaphysics and dunk any idiot daft enough to make such an attempt. As you can see, I do not have that absolute faith in the nature of water.
On the other hand the traditional symbolism of the fluidity of water as emotion makes perfect sense in that context. Transcending the human enslavement to emotional reaction would, indeed, allow those who have reached a high enough point of spiritual unfoldment to ‘walk on water’. Emotions are one of those double edged swords; they allow us to know the higher aspects of Man as love, kindness and compassion, for example; yet they may cut both ways if we become caught in the trap that forgets that such things cannot be given with the kind of strings and conditions that seek to bind other lives to our own. They can only be given freely and in that there is both freedom and beauty.
The river itself is a place that calls forth such reflections. Indeed, it seems to mirror more than the hills and trees in its surface. The winding course of the silver stream is sometimes lost beneath the trees, its present shaded in soft, green light as the growth it sustains enfolds it. Sometimes it is lost from view, its future unseen and uncertain as it follows the valley’s contours, twisting and turning. There are stretches where it is wide and expansive, open to the sky, calm as a lake in meditative silence, reflecting back the sun. Metallic glittering as fish breach its surface or the jewelled flash of a dragonfly skims through the quiet reed beds like inspiration bursting forth from the stillness.
In places the river runs deep, its reflections hiding the underlying currents, smiling in the sunlight while in its depths stones are churned unceasingly. The shallows chatter and babble, never still, never quiet; everything is a mere surface and there is insufficient calm, no depth to sustain any but the life that clings precariously to the rocks and crevices. Yet, even here the herbs and wildflowers find a place to grow, unexpected patches of colour and delicacy, populated by insects and birds; it is here we can see the interdependence of life as each form sustains another in an endless cycle.
There is, however, something about the turbulence of white water that draws us. The waterfalls and weirs are where we congregate, taking pictures, capturing the drama of the moment, losing ourselves in the noise and movement. No matter from which angle we see it, it always seems different. From the calm that precedes, from the gentle meander, the water flows fast, its potentially destructive power channelled through narrow gorges or forced down a fall that changes the level upon which it moves. We feel the strength and power of the elemental force, see the erosion, the catabolism of earth played out before us and we focus our eyes on the foaming brightness with both awe and trepidation.
Some harness that power and use it, converting its strength to create something new. Some choose to brave white water, meeting it head on, becoming one with its fierceness to conquer fear and know its power in the adrenaline rush it provokes. Some are drawn unwitting into the stream and do not survive the battering of the rocks that lie beneath the surface. All of us know the lure of white water in some form in our lives, and all have felt its touch and many the drowning pain of its onslaught.
Yet, as we stand fixated upon the terrifying magnificence and movement we do not always take the time to look around and see what happens next. Below the turbulence of the falls the water roils, it is true; yet life-giving moisture fills the air and the very air itself, in its turn, fills the foaming waters. Trees and plants are bursting with green; mosses grow on rock and bark, fish abound, revelling in the oxygenated flow, and flowers cluster around the banks. and strange and fantastic creatures seem to bask in the flow with wildflowers in their hair.
The river, falling and tumbling over rocks in a dance made by the hand of Man or of Nature, can now reach a new level, bringing the enriched water to a new plain, a new place that might otherwise lie fallow and dull. What it carries in its flow are the traces of all that has gone before, from the birth of a spring high in the hills, through the valleys, collecting and breaking down the detritus of man and landscape alike; churning it in the maelstrom and filtering it through rock and reed until it regains its purity. Life feeds from life and from its death and destruction, its changes and turns, carrying within itself the memories of its journey until, one day, it may join the sea, freed from the bounding banks and narrow channels to play with the moon tides.