Monday, May 09, 2011

Eden on the Feugh

The River Feugh, is the closest thing I have seen to the images my young mind conjured up when I was first told the story of the Garden of Eden. Gentle hills sweep down to fertile plains, which give way to grassy banks and soft meadows through which the gentle river drifts. The only ripples on the surface of the deep silence here, are the sounds of moving water, birdsong and jumping fish.
Sitting alone in sinking light by the Feugh, everything appeared to be still - as if all but the river itself was frozen in time. But my impression did not reflect reality, but rather, showed how insensitive the usual bustle and drama had made me to the subtlety of the millions of movements of life. For the Feugh and its' banks were teeming with, brimming with, life. It's not just that I habitually take for granted the 'slow-life' of the great trees that line the banks of the river - great, grand hardwood structures which have been drawing life from the river for generations. No, there was more than that.
First there was a splash, and then another, and then more. Each one the tiny leap of a salmon, breaking the surface of the water to snatch a fly. And there they were, millions of insects darting everywhere, or resting on the water to tempt the fish to leap. Like a flash of tin-foil, the sun caught the scales of a fish as it broke the surface - too fast for cameras, and almost too fast for the human eye - and was gone. Despite the three-fold predations of man, otters and birds of prey, the river was bursting with fish.
Small birds appeared, dafting about, following incomprehensibly chaotic flight-plans and calling to each other in tumbling waterfalls of notes. A Heron glided down to the river, and perched quietly on a rock - waiting for the right moment to spear a fish. A great tree appeared to become a hologram for a moment, to allow a great owl to fly straight through its' dense branches without touching it, or making a sound. Rabbits lolloped on the grassy banks, while hares sprinted through fields and deer wandered down to the river to nervously inspect the scene - before taking fright (at who knows what), and bolting for cover in the woods.
I walked for a long time by the trees in this achingly beautiful paradise and thought how profoundly odd it is that while I was standing there in Eden, this world is riven by war, and evil. The thought even occurred that while I was standing admiring a particularly stunning tree - somewhere somebody was being tortured, and bearing unspeakable pain. I contemplated my own faults and errors too, and realised that the Garden of Eden story of a good world spoiled; isn't a curious tale from pre-history, but a commentary on contemporary life.
One of the last photos I took that night was of this row of rocks which lie across the river, in front of the cottage, where I was given permission to stay for the weekend. I went to bed thinking about a possible angle for writing about my trip, contrasting the bleak, rugged, wild reaches of the Upper Dee, where I had been hillwalking over the weekend, with these soft, tender, gentle and fruitful landscapes, lower down the river-system. Such writing plans were obliterated by the roaring sound with which I was greeted as I awoke. Overnight rain had turned the Feugh from a gentle river into a seething, boiling torrent. Where the night before it had played with the rocks, almost flirtatiously - now it scoured and assaulted the landscape. It's song was replaced by thunder. The following photo is of the same spot on the river, only hours later.
Up and up the river rose, bursting its banks and encroaching on the gardens, while carrying a great weight of mud, silt, branches, trees and fenceposts. Only myself and two clearly deranged ducks stood in the driving rain to observe the spectacle, all sensible life-forms and sentient beings hid inside their homes and lit warm fires.
This spectacle and show of power was as overwhelming as it was spectacular. I fail to see how anyone could not be deeply affected by nature in its various states like this. Anyone, like me, who thinks that the beauty of all this is not simply chance, random or unplanned - but all flows ultimately from a creator who set the processes of life running with this deliberate end in view; has reason to be doubly awe-inspired by it. The overwhelming glory of everything around me, was not the point of it all - rather it was there in order to reflect, to a degree, the glory and wonder of the mind in whom it all originated.

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