By the Side of a River

For some complicated set of reasons, I am not living by a river just now.

I miss being by a river.

I moved lock, stock and barrel to be by a river seven years ago, then again later to be in a cottage in the countryside with a river just the other side of the road, so close that I could hear it gurgling and murmuring whenever you opened a window or stepped outside the door.

Both of these rivers became ‘my’ rivers, part of me, and me them. Both of these rivers dominated my seeing, and my walking, and my photographic practice.

And I miss being by a river.

Happily, most happily, I have found a river where I can walk. I have found (so far) two stretches of it not too far from here. One stretch gives me rolling fields (that remind me of Galloway-home). The other route meanders through a woodland, past banks of snowdrops in winter, reminding me of the river in the wood back home.

(Does one thing always remind us of another, I wonder, is that part of how we see as we get older, one perspective always interwoven with another?)

I discovered there was a term for this: riparian woodland.

Forests and fields, beaches and sea, woods and rivers. The ancient Celts saw the places where two realms meet as being particularly magical. This principle holds true in ecological terms, with waterside forests being rich and valuable habitats – a home to organisms of woodland and water. Riparian woodlands, as they are known (from the Latin ripa – bank), are those on the banks of natural bodies of water and particularly rivers.

(From Trees for Life: Riparian Woodlands)

The river, the Avon, is liminal, an edge place, the boundary between one county and another.

And I like walking alongside it. I like getting to know the place by getting to know the river, watching patterns and reflections, noticing the light, blinking into the way the place is reflected in and through the water.

It’s where I found the snowdrops.

And where I’m letting myself get lost in learning how to notice and express the shifting texture, pattern and tone of the water, of the river, of the light.

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  1. This is a stunning post, Joanna. The photos are beautiful – beautiful– but your gift, I think, is ‘riparian writing/photography’; your photographs don’t need words and your writing doesn’t need photographs, but when you’re moved to marry them, magic happens.

    A silent Yes! and the hairs on my arms stood on end and when you explained the concept of the merging of realms. A homecoming. I grew up in a village next to a forest and spent my childhood playing ‘up the woods’, building shelters and messing around in burns; as a teenager, I sat on the banks of those same burns, writing, taking photographs, drawing; in my twenties, I took a friend there for a walk, the day after we met. He’s now my husband.

    The merging of realms. My favourite home was my Greek home in a town by the sea at the foot of a mountain. I love to be where houses – painted homes, shutters, balconies, flower pots, tiny gardens, cobbled paths – nestle by the sea, cluster around harbours or cling to the mountain, winding their way down to the coast. Magic and power at the merging of realms; that makes so much sense to me.

    Where I live now has no sea, no river, no mountain, just glimpses of hills all around. Nor is it a vibrant city that’s grown up around a harbour or a bustling waterway. We ‘re surrounded by beautiful countryside and can drive to beauty spots or head out for walks, but it’s not the same as living next to water, resonating with its breath and watching it dance every day in the changing light. Even when I do attempt walks nearer home, a lot of the beautiful land around our town is fenced off and privately owned. I’d be trespassing in my own country. The trees and burns of my childhood didn’t belong to me, but they were mine. They were me.

    Thank you for this post, Joanna. I’m glad you’ve found a new river, a new riversong.

    • I’m gradually learning what kind of landscapes connect for me – I smiled when I found myself drawn to these riverside woods here, and realised this is just the kind of landscape where I feel really at home. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of all the life going on round about you!

      I miss being able to set out from my front door, but am glad to have found a few places where it feels natural and easy to walk round here – to be honest I’d be going a bit doo lally otherwise.

      I hope you find your way to some of those places too…

  2. Love these images, and I’m so envious of you having a river like this nearby. For the first time in my life I’m living in the centre of the UK, miles from the sea, and although there’s a river here it’s a big deep one without the little ripples and drops and whirlpools that make a smaller one so engaging. The countryside round here is very pretty, but it’s all been tamed and there’s nowhere to walk that doesn’t have tarmac paths through it, gift shops, and lots of people, when what I want is muddy paths and space to breathe.

    I often feel a physical ache for open empty spaces, for bubbling water, for woods to walk in, for crashing waves. I’m basically happy here but I know I can’t live here for too many years because the longing for a wilder nature to wander in is sometimes hard to bear. I haven’t been here long, so I still hope that like you I’ll discover something nearby that helps with the longing. I’m glad you’ve found your river, and the resulting images are beautiful.

    • Gilly, I’m glad to have found the river and some other relatively untamed places, but I’m still missing being in the countryside, and having easy access to wilder places than I do now, and I know just what you mean – sometimes it’s such an ache, such a pull it’s hard to resist. I’ve been pulled all over the country (it feels so anyway!) by the pull of geography, some need to get… home.

      Being more central has so many practical advantage and can help us to flourish in other ways – I have friends near you and I hear and see what they are able to access from this kind of place, and for me too, I can see the practical point, but still the wild edges call!

      Sometimes I think the camera lens has a lot to answer for 😉

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