Tuesday, January 24, 2023

What the River Sings

A few rays of winter sunlight fall across the stream bed in the woods with its drifts of meringue snow, glossy ice and exposed current of stones.

In May, there were small rippling waterfalls and gurgling musics all the way along the little hillside river, and I passed many happy (and soggy) hours engaged in the activity known in my clan as "tuning the waterfalls". Shod in wellies and carrying a rusty hoe, I wandered the waterway every week or two, removing dead leaves, twigs and other debris so the water could sing on its journey down the hill and through the woods to the beaver pond on the other side of the Two Hundred Acre Wood. Birds sang in the overstory as I worked, the cascade sparkled, and sunlight flickered through the old trees. The river told me wonderful stories as I splashed about.

Tuning waterfalls is a Zen kind of activity, and an exercise in mindfulness. I have to be in the moment and completely engaged in the exercise at hand, the simple uncluttered (or uncluttering) matter of helping the river sing. I have to stop hoeing occasionally to receive instructions from the water, and I have to listen carefully to what it is saying. I never remove all the fallen leaves, pebbles and sticks; a few must remain as grace notes in the wild hillside symphony. Wendell Berry said it best.

"There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."

In the depths of winter, the river on my hill in the Lanark highlands is frozen and silent, but I can still hear it singing over the stones last May. For this ever baffled and oft impeded elderly female, that is a fine old thing.


Dee said...

That sounds like so much fun! It is cold and frozen here in Eastern Oregon and I am looking forward to Spring, maybe tuning some waterfalls of my own.

Gill said...


Tabor said...

This is one of my favorite posts from you!! I am going to copy it to re-read next winter (if I remember) Thank you!

Barbara said...

Who knew?!? I do this every Spring when the snow starts melting, creating small streams that flow through my property. I thought I was just playing in the water 🙂