Saturday, February 11, 2006

By A Clear Brook

Ireland of the Welcomes, Jan/Feb, 1990.
If someone was to ask me what constituted happiness for me as a child, I would have to answer: the river! It flowed from the Dublin mountains through Forestry lands and cattle-fields as one of several tributaries of the river Dodder, itself a tributary of the Liffey. But where it wound through the lands we tenanted, it made a happy childhood kingdom for children in general, and for one boy in particular.

I suppose it was natural that I'd have an interest in the river, for water was so much of our everyday life. In our crumbling, ancient farmhouse, it seeped, sweat-like, through the plaster. In the great rainwater-tank, it dripped steadily from the handleless, iron tap. The fields were mired with it in places, and the drinking-water for the household was hauled each evening in twin galvanised buckets, from the village pump at the bottom of a long, damp lane.

But the stream itself was a wonderland of sights and smells and sounds. Fishes you could spy where the bed deepened into gravel or sand: facing upstream and staying in position with a lazy sideways movement of tail and fin. A tossed stone and splash! the trout exploded in a burst of speed to safety, under a nearby rock, or sometimes, in a rush, upstream.

Or, further along, the slimed and treacherous stones where the water murmured and trickled, ever onwards. Many the dam I built with those stones, as the holidays wore on and school was but a vague, half-felt discomfort in the distant future. Snails of sorts made homes between the stones, or left stony shells on the undersides of smooth, grey rock, long since rolled from the mountains above.

Around a bend, garlanded by lush hedgerows of autumn-heavy briars, the stream spread its banks in a sluggish pool where river-plants could hold their soapy roots in the muddy ground. Sometimes, on a foggy morning, my boots along the higher bank would startle a great heron from its solitary post. Huge as a pterodactyl of old it seemed to me in my childhood; its dagger-beak carelessly held forward on its lithe neck; its wide wings solemnly, slowly, carrying it downstream-away. Where it came from or made its ponderous nest I never knew, but often asked in vain.

And then, when it had gone beyond the reach of a curious, eight-year old boy, to await patiently a swimming trout or yellow-brown frog, I'd wade in my lovely stream to where a single, granite stone rested in the flow. A rounded, triangular wonder it was, as mysterious in its origins as any grey-backed heron. Smoothed by countless floods of the lively stream, its sparkling surface of mica and quartz held my interest each time I stepped upon it. A shallow drift of sand was gradually deepening around its base, joining it inexorably to the bank beyond. I thought it sad that this statue-like stone would someday stand high above the water-level, as if rejected by the stream itself. But so it was, and each year the sandy-mud grew thicker and the stone edged further, without moving, into the dry land.

Turning from the rock, I might follow the stream to where it swung suddenly onwards, deepening in its course to a brown-black mysterious (and deliciously dangerous!) section of bramble-choked gloom. I fancied I had seen an otter there once -- bouncing along the concrete-bolstered shelf where the Rockbrook road climbed its high hill above. Perhaps it was just childish fancy, or a simple rabbit, grown larger by the sudden fright of thrashing bushes and scattered earth, for I never after heard anyone mentioning such a creature in this river. But maybe I saw what I thought I saw, in the shadow-dappled evening by a stony stream.

At evening, as the water gurgled downstream, and the sun declined towards a far horizon, fogs would gather in the hollow of the river. The smell of the river-plants would catch in the throat; an acrid, wet smell, altogether reminiscent of drowned boys floating in still silent pools. Then the lure of the river would lose its charm, and I would hurry along the furlong to the house, fearful of the bogeyman, or worse, in the misty twilight.

But ever the river called me back to its side, even in wintertime. For winter was the time it roared along the path it chose for itself, carrying debris from the high mountains and scouring the banks with brown, murky water. I never understood how the fish and other creatures weren't all washed away, as stones cracked off one another, and tumbled many yards downstream from summertime spots. The fury of the river was awesome, as the calm of summer-life was awe-inspiring.

But it was in summer that I collected my memories of my river, and in summer that I still seek a gentle brook to walk along and listen to in the calm of the morning. For to me, beauty exists in the simple things, and water and rivers are beautiful as they flow on quietly in the special memory of a small boy on a sunny, summer morning.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Willie, That very river was the demis of a kitten we "rescued" from some obscure place. It was a scrawny little thing which had been rejected by it's mother. It followed you everywhere, perhaps you fed it from baby bottle left over from your feeding days. I was watching you throwing stones into the river and imagining in your mind, the long stick you were holding was a spear and you were going to catch a fish. Suddenly the kitten followed you into the river. I grabbed it and ran up to the house to tell our Mum what had happened. You scurrying along behind me. Mum wrapped it in a towel and dried it off as best she could.The kitten was put beside the range fire and went to sleep. Sadly the little one died from it's dip in the cold river. You were upset but Mum told you not to worry as we had given it a home when it was rejected. You had many a happy time down at that part of the river.

Willie_W said...

The mother often told me that tale, but with our brother, David, in the main role of the wanderer, not me. She very much regretted the fate of the wee thing after its dunking in the stream. So.. Was it me or he? No matter. One of those minor tragedies that life throws up from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh mabey so Willie, Lack of memory of which bruv it actaully was on my part. was sure it was you ! Lovely writings, keep up the good work.

Willie_W said...

Whichever one of us it was, I think I've made up for us both in the way of "cat rescues" since! It's a feline paradise around here...