The River Remembered

One day I went looking for the river. I knew roughly where it was, and so I walked up the Devon country lane beside the house until I came to a gate into a field that stretched down to the treeline beyond which I thought the river probably lay.

When I reached the trees, I found that they formed an almost impenetrable thicket of hawthorn and brambles and nettles. It took a bit of searching before I could find an opening through which to squeeze, into the dark interior.

I listened for the sound of water, but there was none. I looked for swampy ground, or pools of water, but there were none. I decided that the river must be quite a lot further on, and went crashing onwards through the undergrowth, pushing under branches, pushing aside ferns.

And, blinded by sunlit leaves, I almost fell into the river. Another step and I would have plunged in.

The river flowed past in dead silence. There was no hiss or gurgle. It slid past like a sheet of black asphalt, its surface wrinkled like hot asphalt, eddying and swirling. And it came up to within a few inches of the grassy bank on which I stood, whose trees dipped their leafy branches deep into its waters, as if they were drinking.

The river seemed immensely powerful and purposeful, and its inky depths unplumbable. With a shock of fear, I realised that if I had taken one more step, I could easily have been swept for miles along it, perhaps to my death.

Years later, when the smoking ban had expelled me from the pub a mile upstream, I used to walk down to the river with my beer, and sit watching it flow by. I got to know the river well in all its various moods, which ranged from a small gurgling stream snaking between pebbles to an ugly brown foam-flecked torrent. I watched the fish that lurked in the deep pool beneath the bridge, and fed them cheese and onion crisps.  And I watched the ducks with their spring broods of ducklings navigating in flotillas to and fro. Once I saw an otter. Several times I saw brilliant blue and red kingfishers speeding along the river. And butterflies and bumblebees, and dragonflies that moved and turned like tiny helicopters.

Eventually, I followed it up to its headwaters, where it had been dammed to create a lake, out of which it flowed as a brook barely three feet wide. And I followed it to its estuary, where after performing a few wide curves through grassy sand dunes, its brownish water turned and flowed straight out into the blue ocean, and vanished.

These days I think that living things are like rivers. They have no DNA plan or blueprint, and neither do rivers. They just happen. And they keep happening over and over again. All the water in a river must be replaced in a few days or weeks or months, and I was once told that all the cells in a human body were replaced every 7 years. So we also are like rivers in that respect. And we are full of rivers of blood that are fed by tributary streams, and which branch into deltas. And we are laced with nerves which are also like rivers, as if populations of growing and dividing cells had spilled in rivers in all directions, forming arms and legs, with sandbars of bone, and quiet pools and backwaters in which strange ideas bubbled up like frogspawn.

The last time I saw the river was the day I left Devon forever. It had snowed, and the roads were almost impassable, and our little convoy of cars was forced to turn off the road into the car park of the pub beside the river. And after I’d had a drink, I walked through the deep snow down to the river.

It had a whole new face that I’d never seen before. The slow-flowing water along its banks had begun to freeze, and snow was settling along this icy rim, and grey sheets of slush had extended several yards across the river’s surface, leaving a narrowing channel of faster flowing water in the middle.

And then I walked back and got in my car, and scrambled up the icy slope to the bridge, and over it, and away, never to return.

I miss the river. There are rivers not far from where I live, but they are either big wide anonymous rivers, or narrow streams that have dug themselves deep into the red earth. None of them are quite like the river that I knew. They’re not the same. And some days I wish that I could be instantly transported two hundred miles to the pub by the river, so that I might sit there all afternoon with a beer, smoking cigarettes, and watching autumn leaves setting sail downstream, bound for Cadiz or Muscovy or Shanghai.

About Frank Davis

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14 Responses to The River Remembered

  1. waltc says:

    Beautiful piece. You sure can write.

  2. George Speller says:

    A la recherche de temps perdue.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    We went to the river to party and exchange DNA with the natives………….Of course, when your a sailor its customary to indulge the populace and leave it better than when found. World wide populations can thank a sailor for smoking,drinking,carousing and spending their money in these unknown regions near the mouths of rives and oceans………The populations enjoyed a rich and diverse genetic infusion from our journeys.

    The world should indulge smoking sailors, after all that cigarette in a bar may have been what led to their being here in days gone by!

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Bioethicists Propose “After-Birth Abortion:” Killing Newborns

    Giubilini and Minerva wrote “when circumstances occur after birth that would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

    If a newly born child poses an economic burden on a family, or is disabled, or is unwanted, that child can be murdered in cold blood because the baby lacks intrinsic value, and according to Giubilini and Minerva, is not a person.

    Giubilini and Minerva wrote, “actual people’s well-being could be threatened by a newborn even if healthy child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.”

    As any parents — especially moms — will tell you, children in general and newborns in particular require enormous energy, money and boatloads of love. If any of these are lacking or pose what Giubilini and Minerva called a “threat,” does that justify a death sentence?

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    Fat Shaming’ May Prevent Obesity, Prominent Bioethicist Says

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    Its 1900 America and the last progressive movement all over again guys!

    Eugenics: the California connection to Nazi policies

    Eugenics: the California connection to Nazi policies_SF Chronicle

    Mon, 10 Nov 2003

    On Sunday, Nov 9, the San Francisco Chronicle published an extraordinary, most informative article by Edwin Black, that sheds light on the role played by the American eugenics movement in the Nazi extermination policy. Eugenics is a pseudoscience whose purported aim is to “improve” the human race, while eliminating that portion of the race that eugenicists deem “undesirable.” The article is adapted from Black’s recently released book, “War Against the Weak,” published by Four Walls Eight Windows.

    Black shows that American eugenics played a decisive role in the adoption of racist and even lethal public policies in the US and then in Germany. Black writes: “Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America’s most respected scientists from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics’ racist aims.”

    “Stanford President David Starr Jordan originated the notion of “race and blood” in his 1902 racial epistle “Blood of a Nation,” in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.”

    “The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, confinement or forced sterilization.”

    The influence of American eugenicists was even more sinister. American eugenicists influenced the Nazi sterilization, experimentation, and extermination policies–including the medical atrocities first conducted on institutionalized disabled human beings–adults and children. What’s more, the scions of American philanthropy financed German eugenicists and actively supported their pseudoscientific research institutes.

  7. smokervoter says:

    I could easily have been swept for miles along it, perhaps to my death.

    That (death) almost happened to me when I was 13 years old. I was in an underground flood control tunnel (basically a concreted section of a local creek) on a barefoot-burning day in the middle of the long, hot SoCal summer when, unbeknownst to me, a freak torrential monsoonal rainstorm hit.

    We young whippersnappers called it The Pipeline and went there to smoke cigarettes and make out with the girls out of sight of the adult world. It was the coolest place in town in every sense of the word.

    There normally was a small trickle of water flowing underfoot, just enough to cool your feet. I should have put 2+2 together when the flow increased a bit, but at that age things like that don’t occur to you.

    Suddenly I heard the most gut wrenching sound and feeling I will ever experience – the distant thundering roar and almost seismic vibration of a huge wall of water coming my way with no possible exit. I thought for sure that when it hit me it would be my final moment on earth.

    The impact was not unlike being hit by a huge ocean wave, but I had already taken up surfing and I think that helped me survive it.

    I got washed for three miles under our town. There were covered and uncovered sections. In the uncovered sections I would attempt to grab at plants at the creekside but they would either tear away or wrench my hands. Finally I spotted a hug patch of bamboo and swam towards it – it held, and I held on for dear life.

    A woman had seen me floating down the creek and immediately called the police – who showed up and threw me a life preserver. Releasing my grip from the blessed bamboo for the life preserver was one of those split seconds in life when it’s ‘for all the marbles’. It worked and they pulled me out, completely torn to shreds.

    The resilience and perceived indestructibility of youth is an amazing facet of life. I wasn’t traumatized in the least by the experience. I continued to surf and face walls of water twice my height on a regular basis. I loved to jump into the Colorado River to catch a half mile floating jaunt, Coors beer in hand, and then deftly exit at the riverbank unscathed. I’d finish the beer on the walk back to the campgrounds.

    I do think however that if we ever have a simultaneous earthquake and thunderstorm here, and especially during a hot August day, something deep down in my psyche will tremble in lived over terror.

    • Frank Davis says:

      That really does sound like a near death experience.

      I think if I had fallen into the river that day, I probably would have been swept a fair distance, because the river was both deep and flowing strongly. It must have rained quite a lot in previous days for it to be so deep, and so near (a foot or so) overflowing its banks. But there were a lot of trees dipping their branches into it, and it would have been quite easy to grab onto them (but not so easy to pull myself out). Also, I can swim. Most likely I would have got washed up somewhere where the river widened and shallowed. But nobody would have seen me, as the river flowed through the Devon countryside, until I’d climbed out of my own accord.

      • smokervoter says:

        It depends on what type of trees you’d have encountered. I thought that was my ticket out of there until I tried to grab hold of them. The branches and leaves just snap away like nothing. Then there’s the issue of your grasp, I broke several fingers in the process. Hydraulic leverage is incredible. Bamboo is a different plant, it’s actually a grass and it’s roots really dig in but good. I still love bamboo, it’s my saviour plant.

        I would imagine the water is much colder there too. Hypothermia might have become a problem. You’re lucky you didn’t step in Frank.

        A couple of weeks ago there was a brief news piece on a flood in Devon on either MHz Japan or France 24/7. The footage showed the streets flooded pretty badly. I thought about what your posting would have been like if you still lived there.

  8. jaxthefirst says:

    Why did you leave Devon, Frank?

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’d been looking after my mother in the family home, and after she died, the house was put up for sale (it was too big for my needs). I hardly knew anyone in Devon, so there was no point staying – as pleasant a county as Devon might be.

  9. That’s another good piece of writing, Frank. Thanks for it.

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