I was born in the town of Stirling, in the middle of Scotland’s Central Belt. So, for most of the first couple of decades of my life I lived near the River Forth. When you look down on the River Forth from Stirling Castle you see it winding and snaking its way east. I twists and turns the way a vine grows. Some of the loops almost join up as if they are trying to create small islands. Old maps show that the exact route of the river has changed many times over the centuries.
Rivers are like that. They never stay the same.
For most of my next two decades I lived in Edinburgh….next to the River Forth. But by the time it reaches Edinburgh the River Forth has grown and changed out of all recognition. It no longer curls and winds its way. By now it’s become the “Firth of Forth” and has two (soon to be three) huge bridges spanning it, connecting Lothian to Fife. It’s hard to fully understand that the river which passes by Stirling and Edinburgh is actually the same river.
Rivers are like that. They change as they cross the land from the hills to the sea.
After my Edinburgh days, I spent the best part of the next couple of decades near the River Clyde. I traveled to work by train every day and looked out at the Clyde as the train passed Partick. Before my time those banks of the Clyde were covered with shipyards and docks. By the time I was passing by all that had gone. The Clyde wasn’t the great shipbuilding river any more.
Rivers are like that. They serve different purposes as societies and economies change.
Now I’m near where I took that photo at the top of this post. That’s the River Charente as it flows through Cognac in France. The Charente is said around here to be a relaxed river. It flows pretty calmly and steadily, influencing the whole way of life here.
Rivers are like that. They influence our lives.
I often think of rivers. How do you pin down the identity of a river? As Heraclitus said you can’t step in the same river twice, because the water which flows by is literally different water minute by minute. So if we can’t define a river by its water, can we define it by its boundaries, its banks? But they change too. Some not so much, some quite a lot.
I think we are all a bit like rivers. Life flows through us, changing our cells, our fluids and our structures day by day. We are bounded in some way by where our bodies meet the rest of the world. But these surfaces are constantly changing.
How do we retain our identity? Much as the River Forth has changed so much in the time it takes to meander from Stirling to Edinburgh, so do I change as I grow from my first two decades to the next two. Yet I still feel I have the same identity. It’s just that everything about me has changed.
Well, I wonder how much of the next two decades I’ll spend near the Charente?
Or will some other river beckon?
How about you? Which rivers mean the most to you?