The river

“Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colours”

– Pablo Neruda

I live by a river called Hers. And it is hers –  hers but mine too – Mother Nature, The Muse and me. Anyway, the river is definitely feminine; open, vulnerable and sensual. She gives and supports life, yet can destroy it too; she is a strong, willful, unpredictable paradox. Both capable of killing and healing, and I am enchanted.

river hers

Every day, whatever the weather and however sick I feel, we walk Luna down to the river. Cancer is not taking that from me. Full disclosure: I’ve missed maybe 5 walks in the past 3 months. And every day is different in some way. Perhaps one day it is the fat, hairy bee struggling downstream. We scoop him out and put him on a warm stone to dry, the life slowly returning. There are frogs we have watched grow. From when they still had their little vestigial tails to now; their muscular black striped thighs propelling them through the water as they rush to get out of the dog’s way.

The willow is hanging a little lower every time. Now the outermost leaves are dipped in and get tossed by the babbling water. Crayfish claws, mink dens and poo, signs of the non-natives intruders. Gigantic brown trout flipping sideways and catching the light on their silvery bellies. Teeny tiny tiddlers expertly navigating the current. Water boatmen walking on the surface, the shadows of their feet creating huge black circles and the birds darting to pick them off. The myriad tones of grey and blue pebbles and stones, the burnt sienna of the brick and tiles worn away smooth, and oddments of glass and pottery. The light glistens as the sun hits the surface, bursting thousands of sprinkles of stardust and writhing radiant lines that can’t stop dancing.

If I’m feeling brave I’ll kick off my shoes and wade out across the stones. The water is icy cold, numbing at first until the feeling returns to my toes. I’ll pretend I’m a naiad, listen to the birdsong and the breeze, the chatter of the river as she tumbles over stone, my daughters and Luna. All us girls together. And I breathe it all in, deeply. I hate the internet overuse of the word ‘sacred’ and I can’t be doing with all that woo-woo crap, but I’m not immune and I imagine my feet are absorbing all this cleansing, oxygen-rich lifeblood that pumps throughout Earth’s lymphatic system, nourishing her. It has permeated my body, flowing through my own lymphatic system, cells, veins and arteries, cleansing me from all the disease, pain and tension.

Washing away when I don’t feel strong at all but feeling if I admit to being weak or afraid I will let everyone down; the loathing I feel sometimes towards my body and the guilt I feel for the treatment it’s getting when I tried to hard to take care of it; the things that stop me sleeping, the searching for answers or worst of all when I blame myself. The heavy sadness and the sometimes uncompassionate parts of me, all washed away. And as the river flows it all away from me it becomes more and more dilute until it disappears completely and no longer exists in this world. All that’s left is grace and faith.

I found a stone, a rich blue-grey dome with a jumble of white veins running amok across the surface. As they spill over the edges they just disappear into nothing. I bloody love that stone.

***

There has been a unsurprising shift inside me, and all I want is to live my life in a small and simple way. My river is helping me by doing her part and showing up for me. She and I started a little project together. I didn’t know when I started it would be A Thing, so what started out as a daily practice to keep me grounded to something I love during the brutality of my chemotherapy has grown. I began to work small and simple in a pocket moleskine, and the first sketch was of the river’s stones.

After a while I set myself some boundaries: the river, prussian blue watercolour and the mini moleskine. Also allowed are white, a smidge of burnt sienna and a day off if I feel too sick. Having constraints has been so inspiring and these sketches continue to grow, becoming a metaphor for my physical fight and also my emotions. As the days go by the wee paintings are becoming more abstracted and more almost biological, molecular looking. Perhaps because words like mitochondria and leucocytes, creatinine and monclonal antibodies are buzzing around me daily. Her waters are teeming with the beauty and hope I need and she shares them with me generously.

 

The world is blue at it’s edges and in it’s depths. This blue is the light that gets lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colourless, shallow water appears to be the colour of whatever lies beneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of the land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue of the farthest reaches of the places you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty in the world, so much of which is in the colour blue.

– A Field Guide To Getting Lost. Rebecca Solnit

{You can follow this sketchbook’s progress on Instagram with #prussianblueproject if you like}

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