This week's word comes to us from the Middle English tumblen, thence the Old English tumbian, meaning "to dance about". Tumble is closely related to the Middle Low German, tummelen meaning "to turn or dance", the Dutch tuimelen meaning "to fall", the Old High German tumon and the modern German taumeln, both meaning "to turn or reel." The French word tomber meaning "to fall, lurch or flounder" is a kindred word sharing these origins. Dancing was important to the early Anglo Saxons - they knew how to trip the light fantastic, and their language contained a number of other words for dancing: intreprettan, hoppian, hléapan and sealtian to name just a few.
For all its obscure origins, tumble is a word in wide circulation. We sometimes describe any drinking glass at all as a tumbler, but it once referred specifically to one with a rounded or pointed bottom that could not be set down until it was empty. The same word describes a key part of a Yale lock's mechanism and is another name for a gymnast or acrobat. We use tumble down to describe dilapidated or abandoned buildings, and before automobiles came along, it was used to describe horses that stumbled whenever they were hitched up. Then there's the fine old expression rough and tumble, signifying insouciance, a certain roughness and calculated inattention, a withering disdain for rules and regulations.
I think of my ungainly "base over apex" antics (tumbles) on the ice this past winter, although thankfully there are no photographic records of those. In spring and summer, wild clematis vines and other "creepers" tumble over almost everything in sight and wrap themselves around trees in the woods like festive garlands. Leaves tumble end over end through the air in autumn and dance round and round in the wind before simply falling and coming to rest on the earth.
The astonishing tumbling and contortions of the Cirque de Soleil (Circus of the Sun) originated in performances by street artists in the village of Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, in the 1980s. Attending a CdS evening production years ago for the first time, I was enchanted by the peaked tents looking for all the world like something out of a medieval tourney. Once inside, the music, sets, costumes and choreography of Saltimbanco took over, and I was well and truly hooked forever. Artful tumbling? Oh yes...
Most of all, there is the wild, madcap tumbling of a certain small, impetuous river in the Lanark highlands - the tributary begins high in the hills and plunges straight down from the heights, crossing the Two Hundred Acre Wood and arriving at the end of its journey in a beaver pond on the far side of the property.
In spring, I sit by the little river now and then, and I come away feeling restored and replenished every time - the place does wonders for my inner directives. Every image I have ever captured there seems more like a painting than a photograph, each lit from within, complete within itself and needing no words at all. It's kind of a Zen thing, and one has to be there to appreciate it. By the time summer comes around, the little river has dried up, and that is a fine old lesson in mujo or impermanence (無常).