Day ten of my “twelve project” brings me to this photo which I took in October last year. It’s a picture of the river Charente as flows through the town of Jarnac, which is about a half hour’s drive from the village where I live.
The river gives its name to this whole region, the “Charente” and it flows to the Atlantic passing through the neighbouring region of the “Charente Maritime” on the way. But the river does more than give its name to this region. It is symbolic of, or maybe more accurately, it creates, the pace of life here. People say it flows steadily and calmly, just as you can see in that photo. I’ve been here just over two years now and I’ve never seen it churned up or terribly disturbed. It might happen sometimes but I’ve never ever seen it. Normally when you walk along its banks or look down from one of the bridges, it looks like this.
I encounter the river most commonly in three different towns. My “home town” of Cognac, half an hour to the East in Jarnac, where this photo is taken, and half an hour West to Saintes. In all three of these towns the Charente looks like this. Yet in each of these towns it is also unique and different, because a river isn’t just the water, it’s the banks and the land around the water.
I think it’s not just that it is calming to watch the water flowing so steadily, it slows you down. It slows you down by capturing your attention so that you stand and gaze at it for a while, or you are drawn to wander along one of the miles and miles of footpaths which follow its course, and as you wander it seems the river is keeping pace with you. It’s wandering too. Or is it the other way around? Do we unconsciously fall into step with the river? It slows you down another way too, because when it flows this way the surface is typically highly reflective. Look at the reflections in this photo. It was the sparkle of the sunlight on the lily leaves which initially caught my attention this day, and it was only just after that that I noticed the reflections of the little clouds floating by. It inspires you to reflect.
I love rivers. I grew up in the town of Stirling in Scotland. The River Forth winds its way towards, through and beyond Stirling like a great ribbon, or maybe a snake. You can see it best from Stirling Castle. Standing at the castle gazing down to the Old Bridge, following the curves of the river with my eyes as I look towards the Ochil Hills is one of my strongest memories. It’s one of those scenes which embeds that place in my identity.
I love the symbolism of rivers, how they are never the same two days in a row. As Heraclitus said “you can never step in the same river twice”, reminding us that every moment changes and every moment is unique. I love how you can’t look at a river without imagining both where it has come from and where it going to. It’s like a story. It is present in front of you now, but it brings into this present moment, the past, from the springs in the hills, through its journey of days or weeks, and it holds within it all the potential to become the river it will become as it flows towards the sea.
I can’t think of rivers without thinking of the incredible water cycle of the Earth. How the rivers flow to the sea, how the wind and the sun lift the water into the air, how it condenses to make clouds which then dissolve into rain on the hills and the mountains to create the streams which flow together to create the rivers again. I like that I can see at least part of that in this photo with both the river and the clouds sharing the same space in my picture.