“..the river moves on and on ; the heart follows, willingly, always glad to be Hunter, discoverer.” Harry Middleton
We describe rivers as living beings. The concept resonates and it allows for the attachment of a personality to a thread of water in Trout country. That seems appropriate. Yet rivers, if they are to be living things, are an anomaly, because they never die. Sure, in the lowlands, some factory may dump waste and the river “dies”. But even there, look at the Thames and its tributaries now compared to how they were in the industrial revolution! When man has burned out and imploded in millennia to come, I suspect the Thames will still be there, and I suspect it will have a healthy run of salmon.
A berg stream, will in all likelihood have a an easier go of things. Up there in a steep sided kloof there is a more evident timelessness. A recent rock fall: a fresh slab of white sandstone, skidded to a halt half way down the mountain, is still fresh thirty years on. The word “recent” takes on a new timeline. We can go back up there and throw a fly as we did half a generation ago, and it is still as it was.
In a pretty run of water a small trout will be finning, as it was back then. Its presence and purpose there as meaningless and beautiful as a dazzling brushstroke on a canvas. As one can stand in an art gallery and contemplate a work of art, in order to discover its meaning, so too, one must hike into the mountains and watch that finning Brown. In so doing you will give it meaning, but you will not be able to describe it, and every man will find his own meaning. You have to go there for yourself. Years on, you will need to go back there again to place another dot on the map of life. Two points on the page set the trajectory. They point you to where you are going.
…..thirty two years later:
My photographic equipment improved in the intervening years. I aged (a bit!). My fishing improved.The farm got expropriated. The government changed. The tree grew.
And the river stayed the same.
I remember once peering into a deep pool on a river somewhere, and not being able to see much, because of a layer of “scum” for want of a better word, and PD turning to me and saying (with the most subtle tones of disdain), “you like that stuff don’t you!”.
Yes I do.
The truth be told, such scum is often an accumulation of wattle pollen or flowers, and pollutants of unknown origin, and is blown into a pool by an awful berg wind, all of which I dislike with a passion. I have previously written of my inconsistent prejudices, well this must be another one then.
But think about it: who wouldn’t get a tingle of anticipation when rounding a bend in the river to find a pool with a deep shaded spot, covered by a rock overhang, or tree.
“You will hear the silence of the folded hillside brushed by the wind in its grasses..”
The other day I grasped an opportunity to go out on the river alone. From time to time I have this urge for the utter solitude and peace of being alone on the water for a full day. In fact I have that urge most weekends, and seldom get to fulfill the dream. So when this particular late September day dawned, I woke with my soul upon the lip of the precipice, ready to soar. I was happy. I left my bed with a sense of freedom and liberation. I had awoken early. The kids were baby-sat.
All was well until I reached the bedroom window and drew back the curtain a few inches to inspect the conditions. It had been raining. In fact my memory was suddenly jogged that in the half sleep of the bewitching hour, I had heard a thunderstorm and the drumming of the gutters. It was now cold and miserable. I stepped back and pondered the situation briefly, and then looked again.
I recently spent a few days with four friends on some magnificent trout rivers. On that particular trip we made a point of dividing ourselves differently each day, and heading out onto our booked beats, only to regroup at lunch time, or perhaps in the evening.
Over those days we fished long hours, and all caught many good trout. However, despite the long stretches of time on the water, I found myself watching my colleagues fish for many enjoyable hours, particularly after I had caught a few trout, and settled into the day in question.