The river was there.
The river had always been there. It had been there for as long as anyone along its length could remember, and indeed it had been there long before that.
Somewhere up in the mountains, amongst the eyebrows of glowering mist and the bony crags, beyond the small village nestled against the gloomy hip of the mountain range which slid across the country, pulling the plains apart and splitting up the green gold piecemeal patchwork of the arable land, it began its stumbling journey westwards to the coast, to oblivion and unity with the ocean.
The river had always been there, although it hadn’t always looked the same. In the beginning, as a child, it had been more of a suggestion than the inscrutable and pondering reality it now was. It had been more of a fine thread, an idea slithering its way down through the rocks, taking the path of least resistance to the low places. It didn’t matter that it took a long time to stretch from one end of its journey to the other. Time meant nothing to it, for it had no concept of time. And, once the two points, the Spring and The Ocean, had been connected, there was even less likelihood of its ever becoming aware of time. For it simply was.
I am that I am, it said. I have no past or future, merely a present.
I am that I am.
Even though there was movement along its length, from one end to the other, in fact it didn’t move at all. Sudden storms in the mountains, or the fresh flush of spring snows might cause it to swell, and overflow its banks in places, like an overweight person trying to wear clothes too small and too tight, but it always returned to its natural form. Occasional summer droughts might shrink it, and drive parts of it underground, but that was only ever for a time. The Earth continued turning towards the east, while the moon and sun moved towards the west each day, dropping out of sight and then returning a half-cycle later. At some point the rains would come again, to restore its fullness. Its shape changed but its form remained.
Of course, like the rope woven from many strands which described it aptly, the river was made up of different components, each one contributing to its character and complexity. The river which gushered forth from the Sacred Spring was not the same river which arrived at the Ocean, and yet it was. On its journey, down and westwards, it was joined by other rivers and streams, which flowed into and merged with it. The streams which fell off the cliffs in plummeting waterfalls like long tresses of fine silver hair and plunged into it, brought a certain wildness and youthful boisterousness. The snakelike creeks which insinuated themselves into it by way of the swamps added caution to its character. The long, meandering oxbows of the plains and the subtle streams which wove into it taught it to relax and celebrate the journey. In short, it grew in self-awareness as it travelled.
The river was life. The river was Life. The river brought life, to the creatures which lived within it, and to the creatures which dwelt along its banks, and from time to time, it took life away. It fed those who depended upon it, however occasionally it would cleanse itself and take life away. The spring floods, when it was bulging with snow melt, were notoriously dangerous times. Depending on the ferocity of the downwash, fish and the tiny denizens along its bed, the grimly-clinging snails, hard-shelled insects and juvenile fish would be swept away and spewed forth into the Great Ocean. Sometimes even mature fish would be washed from its body, although, over time these had become used to the process and had learned to seek the protective hollows and slow pools deep down in the darkness of the riverbed, where the current was much slower. Then, as the rains eased, the river would slow and shrink and all would return to the Old Normal which better defined it.
However, the river was party to a cycle few of the humans living along it understood, apart from the wise elders living in the villages bordering it, who had learned its language. Day after day, as they sat watching it and blending themselves into its rhythms, insight came. At first they heard snatches of language, words and the occasional phrase then, as they persevered, whole sentences, chapters and manuscripts. Then they began to understand the meaning behind those stories, and their part in the narrative. Finally, they began to understand themselves in terms of the narrative. They began to comprehend the cycle of which the river was part, for the river was part of a greater cycle.
It wove its beginning in the mountains at the Sacred Spring, and completed its earthly journey in the ocean. It began its life in the womb of its mother, the Earth, and stayed attached to her, resting upon her belly as it made its pilgrimage to the Ocean. Once there,however, the Wind picked it up, changed its form and returned it as rain onto the mountains, where it sank through the cracks and fissures in the land, quietly reassembled itself and then emerged yet again to repeat its journey. Thus, it was part of a constant spiral of creation, growth and then decay.
As all things are. As all life is, for life, growth, decay, death and rebirth are merely a spiral journey, and all forms of life mere spirals within spirals.
The Water Traveller, however, knew none of this consciously, living as he was in his small village.
But he would.
In time, he would.