Knowing a river
It's calling me in.
As the day calls the night in all around me on the wooded banks of the Scottish Avon, or “A’an”. I am perched on a rock, just inside the river’s flow – a castle complete with moat.
All I can hear is the tea coloured water breaking on its reef of granite. To my left, a loud sssshhhh as white-topped-waves rise and fall. On my right, a lesser reef has a more melodic sound as the stream plays it as it passes.
In front of me is a deep brown pool, conspicuous in its stillness and silence like the eye of a storm. Here the current moves stealthily, fast and smooth.
And it still calls to me. As the autumnal sepia turns to wintery black and white and my eyes adapt to the growing dark, I decide to heed its call and slip in.
The wide pebble bank provides both the perfect store for my clothes and entry point to the ice bath that awaits. Before I take to the water, I pause to feel the cold air on my bare skin: cold feels less daunting when you search for it and point your curious mind to it.
As I walk into the water my feet send instant SOS signals to my brain - appealing to common sense. But I stubbornly override my senses, common or otherwise. The next move must be a swift one and I glide into the pool of iced tea and sink in up to my shoulders. To distract from the shock and create a sense of control I kick furiously while lying on my back facing downstream, leaning into the current.
As the shock subsides, I carefully and gradually reduce my kicking and purposefully slow my breathing. I seek a state of calm. In that place, though, I find the river’s flow is even stronger than I imagined and I reach for an anchor on the rocky riverbed.
Now the pin pricks of cold come to my toes. They are sharp but somehow friendly, like harsh words of advice you know you need to hear. They are from my senses after all, not from the river or anything else outside me.
I look about me and watch the speed of the river surface flowing. In this monochrome dusk the peaks and troughs of the river’s waves are more obvious – like the hills and valleys of the Moon are more obvious when our satellite is waxing or waning rather than full. At the same time the surface has become impenetrable to the eye. By sight alone it could be black tar, but my skin knows better as it feels the grace of the water gliding over its surface, along my back, under my arms, down my legs.
I splash my face a few times and wet my head completely. Brain freeze! As if I’d eaten a hundred ice creams in a split second. I decide that once that familiar ache subsides I will emerge. I realise that the feeling in my hands has gone completely too.
I step clumsily out across the pebbles and I stand looking over that dark pool while drying off a little in the wintry air. The body and mind play tricks: that same air once chilly now seems barmy.
A few minutes later, once fully clothed again, the adrenalin subsides and I realise the true temperature of my body. Its time to move. But before I climb the bank and walk away, I turn back to survey this bend in the river and know that it will now stay with me: we shared this moment and nothing can undo it.
I know this river now and I feel more alive now than I did before.