The River’s Voice

CommonGroundProducts_069-580x390The River Meander must be a wonderful sight, its Turkish curves so tantalising that it has given the English language a verb and a noun. King Tantalos, up to his neck in Phrygian water that receded whenever he bent his head to drink, gave us the teasing verb.

Intricate language and stories hang in the air, condensing when needed to enrich another place. Springs and great rivers – and all those bournes, becks, burns and brooks in between – not only provide us with our basic requirement for life, but have helped us explain and share knowledge of the world around us.

The real rivers, which may terrorise or delight us, are intriguing for their particularity. The variegation found in a single river valley and the differences among catchments are part of the great workings of nature, time and geology, and the efforts that we humans have made to control and use water for our own ends.

Even in England, where we had learnt to share the power of the stream with wild creatures and plants, leating it to drive mills, diverting it to flood meadows, damming it to pacify and to please, some of our activities are having profound implications. Through two centuries of industrialisation we have turned our back on the city river; in only five decades, intensifying farming practices have filled the country river with chemicals; engineering has straightened the meanders, rendering the river more, not less, unpredictable. Fashions in fear and development, have conspired to push running water away from our everyday experience, increasingly reducing streams to ditches and finally to culverts. The explosion in the working and domestic use of water is depleting aquifers, those of ancient water, and causing the drying up of streams. And the selling of common water into corporate hands is retreat of the millennium.
We are united in our need for water, but are increasingly divided by its scarcity. At the very moment when we need the closeness of water to feed our humanity and imagination, we seem to be denied literal contact, and have lost sight and sound of its magic.